Synthesis: Land use transitions in the tropics

TitleSynthesis: Land use transitions in the tropics
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsUriarte, M, Schneider, L, Rudel, TK
Accession NumberLUQ.967
Keywordstropical landscapes

Land cover transformations in the tropics are not limited to deforestation; they include other complex transitions such as agricultural and urban expansion, pasture development, and secondary vegetation regrowth. Understanding the causes and extent of these highly variable and complex transitions requires close collaboration between biological, physical, and social scientists. Here we address three critical issues in the study of land transitions: (1) What methodological and socioecological criteria should be used for characterizing land cover categories and transformations? Results from case studies presented here call for the creation of continuous land cover classes that allow for detection of disturbance and human use dynamics and consideration of socioeconomic and biophysical criteria in characterizing and monitoring land transitions. (2) What are the most promising theoretical frameworks? Successful theoretical frameworks must bridge disciplinary boundaries, and encompass multiple spatial, temporal, and political scales. (3) Are regime shifts, constraints, and resilience of land transformations in the tropics predictable? Resilience of land use systems requires a feedback loop between ecological constraints and management decisions. This loop may be broken by policies, migration, and flow of capital from global commodity markets. In addition, land transformations may lead to novel interactions between land-use and natural disturbance leading to unpredictable regime shifts in ecosystems. Planning for sustainable patterns of land use requires some understanding of these regime transformations.