The Impact of Economic Globalization on Human Demography, Land Use, and Natural Systems in Latin America and the Caribbean

The globalization of the worlds economy is impacting all aspects of human and natural systems. Many of these impacts are positive (e.g. poverty reduction), but there are also negative effects, particularly for natural systems due to the increasing demand for natural resources of a growing and more affluent population. Furthermore, rural inhabitants, particularly young people, are migrating to regional urban centers or to more developed economies (e.g., the United States), because they are attracted by opportunities of better jobs, education, and health services. These unprecedented changes in both demographic factors (e.g., rapid urbanization, international migration, falling rural fertility and mortality) and economic factors (e.g. expansion of non-agricultural industries, decreasing price of agricultural produce, emigrant remittances, emergence of large-scale modern agriculture, and increasing global demand for food and petroleum alternatives) are predicted to lead to the following land-use transitions: 1 ) Extensive conversion of native ecosystems to modern agriculture, particularly in areas with little topographic relief (e.g. soybean production in South American dry forest ecosystems), and 2) Abandonment of marginal agricultural and grazing lands, particularly in mountainous and remote regions, permitting ecosystem recovery. To test these predictions, the project will combine demographic and socio-economic data from >18,000 municipalities throughout Latin America and Caribbean with remote sensing analyses of land-cover/land-use change for the period 1980-2000. In addition, the project will document how these demographic and land-use changes are affecting natural ecosystem and local inhabitants by conducting ecosystem inventories and household interviews in selected countries. This project will create a large database, which will allow us to model the complex interaction between and among human and natural systems. The study should reveal new concepts that will facilitate societys understanding of the socioeconomic and biodiversity consequences of global change. The major contribution will be a detailed database that integrates demographic, economic, land-use, and ecosystem data at multiple spatial scales. This information will be used to create continental-scale models of land-use change, and these models will be used to facilitate local governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in regional to local planning. Another important benefit will be the development of young interdisciplinary scientists. Environmental problems are complex, and even when multidisciplinary groups are assembled, the success of these teams depends on a few key people that have cross-disciplinary experience. This project is supported by an award resulting from the FY2006 special competition on the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems.

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