Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

Land-use and biodiversity in the Chaco - Objectives


The Argentine Chaco is among the most rapidly disappearing ecoregions on the planet, mainly due to the expansion of export-oriented soybean cultivation and the intensification of cattle ranching in this region. The drastic land use changes in the Chaco also exert great pressure on the region’s unique biodiversity. Unfortunately though, neither recent land use change patterns nor their effects on biodiversity are well understood, which is problematic because conservation planning to balance agricultural production and biodiversity conservation is urgently needed. Moreover, the Chaco is interesting for improving our understanding of the relationship of land use change and biodiversity in general, and to learn how to align the often conflicting goals of agricultural production and conservation in the face of globalization. We will focus this project on the four northern Argentine provinces of Formosa, Salta, Chaco, and Santiago del Estero, where forest loss has been most rampant recently, where strong gradients of land use intensity prevail, and where conservation planning is constrained by a severe lack of baseline data, particularly at the regional level. In doing so, this project will provide important decision support for land use and conservation planning in the region. Our project has three overarching research questions:


  1. How have land systems changed in the Argentine Chaco during the last 25 years?

Objective 1.1: Generate Landsat image composites.

Objective 1.2: Define a set of land systems and map transitions between them in the Chaco for the period 1990-2015.


  1. What is the relationship of land use change and biodiversity in the Chaco?

Objective 2.1: Carry out a rapid bird community survey for two consecutive years (2015/16).

Objective 2.2: Model the relationship between community-level bird diversity indicators and land change.

Objective 2.3: Quantify the importance of past habitat conversion and fragmentation in determining current bird communities.


  1. What are the trade-offs between agricultural production and biodiversity conservation in the Chaco?

Objective 3.1: Generate a range of productivity measures that allow ranking land systems.

Objective 3.2: Model and understand trade-offs between productivity and biodiversity.


In addressing these main research questions quantitatively, and in gathering the necessary datasets to do so, the project will thus explore the following overarching hypothesis:

  1. The extent and the intensity of land use have both increased during the study period,
  2. Land use intensification affects biodiversity negatively in the Chaco, and
  3. There are substantial, currently unrealized potentials to mitigate trade-offs between agricultural production and biodiversity conservation in the Argentine Chaco.

In exploring these central hypotheses, this project will make substantial contributions to land use science, conservation science, and sustainability science.