Quantifying Linkages Among Land-Use Policies, Agricultural Intensification, Habitat Fragmentation, and Social-Ecological Resilience in a Tropical Biological Corridor

This project is about understanding the interactions between land-use policies, agricultural rural development and land use change in tropical landscapes, and how these changes affect the resilience of and relationships between human populations and the natural ecosystems present in these landscapes. Millions of hectares of tropical forests have been converted to agriculture leaving behind patches of remnant natural forest embedded in an agricultural matrix. Historically, this agricultural matrix was dominated by subsistence crops and pasture, but in some areas this land is rapidly being replaced with intensive plantation agriculture for soybean, banana, and pineapple production. In contrast with more traditional land uses, these crops require higher inputs of labor, money, agrochemicals, and infrastructure. The impacts of this new land conversion trend are not well understood, but preliminary studies suggest that intensive plantation agriculture may drive dramatic demographic and economic changes in local communities and have profound effects on ecological systems. Ultimately, these impacts will change the ability of these human and ecological communities to maintain resilience to future change. Thus, a better understanding is needed of the relationships among land-use policies, ecosystem structure and function, and the decisions and actions of local communities and land managers that ultimately determine where and how fast intensive plantation agriculture will spread. This project will evaluate these relationships in the model system of the San Juan-La Selva Biological Corridor in Costa Rica. Specifically, this research will address a variety of research questions, such as: What national policies led to the establishment and spread of intensive non-traditional plantation crops? For three focal regions, what is the status of the social and ecological indicators of resilience? How will current and alternative policy scenarios affect future land use patterns, and how will these affect ecological resilience? How does future scenario modeling of projected land use changes influence the perceptions of community members and land managers about their future social and ecological resilience? This effort incorporates stakeholder input at every step of the research; implements two new ecological approaches, functional traits analysis and landscape genetics; and explicitly measures both social and ecological resilience in the same system and at multiple spatial and temporal scales.

Findings from this research will advance understanding of how human communities and ecosystems respond to agricultural intensification, and will therefore help scientists and managers better understand how to manage for resilience in the face of global change. At the local scale, findings will be shared through stakeholder workshops with community leaders and regional land managers; these workshops will provide participants with information to make informed land use decisions, and develop community capacity to adapt to change. At the global scale, findings from this research will be disseminated through presentations at the participating universities, at professional conferences, and through publication of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals. In addition, this project will contribute to the interdisciplinary research training of multiple undergraduates and five Ph.D. students, all from under-represented groups.

Lead Investigator: 
Other Investigator(s): 
Costa Rica