Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

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PASANOA – Main objectives of the project – Project summary

 

While land management provides societies with essential ecosystem services, it is also a main cause of global environmental change, leading to the massive loss and degradation of natural ecosystems, their biodiversity, and the services they collectively provide. Agricultural production and conservation are also mutually dependent as biodiversity underpins ecological processes crucial to agriculture (e.g., pest control, nitrogen fixation, pollination). Moreover, while some species require unmanaged lands, many others can persist in agricultural landscapes, dependent on management intensity. Understanding trade-offs between agricultural production, other ecosystem services, and biodiversity, and identifying landscapes that mitigate these trade-offs, are thus key for transitioning to multifunctional land systems.

Argentina is one of the world’s major exporters of agricultural products and has increased its production substantially over the last decades, albeit at considerable environmental costs. Recent agricultural expansion and intensification have been particularly rampant in the Chaco in Argentina’s North, mainly for soybean farming and cattle ranching. At present, the region has among the highest rates of forest loss in the world. Current land management in the Chaco is clearly not sustainable and solutions for balancing the goals of agricultural production and conservation are urgently needed.

 

Fig. 1: The Chaco ecoregion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fig. 1: The Chaco ecoregion


Four major knowledge gaps need to be overcome in this respect. First, a better understanding of the trade-offs and synergies between agricultural production, ecosystem services provisioning and biodiversity is required. Substantial uncertainty exists regarding how land management affects ecosystem service bundles and biodiversity, and how these effects vary in heterogeneous landscapes and across scale (e.g., regional benefits may outweigh local trade-offs). Second, new insights into the drivers of land-use decisions in the Chaco are needed. A range of land systems and associated actors exist in the Chaco (i.e., subsistence farming, traditional grazing, intensified grazing and agribusiness farming). Yet, the process of land management decision making and how it varies across the region is unclear. This is a major obstacle in identifying effective policies to implement sustainable land systems. Third, future development pathways in the Chaco are highly uncertain. Rising global demand and commodity prices, market integration and technological developments all suggest continued agricultural expansion and intensification in the Chaco. Yet, how different scenarios may affect land use patterns, ecosystem service provisioning and biodiversity is uncertain, as are the outcomes of alternative development pathways (e.g., area expansion vs. intensification). Finally, what characterizes landscape patterns that balance agricultural production and conservation goals is unclear. Spatial priorization tools for identifying such landscape patterns have recently become available, but have not yet been applied in the Chaco. Likewise, it remains unclear how such optimal landscapes vary across future scenarios and which policies could foster their implementation.

To tackle these knowledge gaps, PASANOA will bring together internationally recognized land system experts, agro-ecologists, agricultural economists and conservation biologists from Germany and Argentina. The project consortium aims to producing major scientific advances in land use and conservation science, to generate policy-relevant information on how to transition to sustainable land management systems in the Chaco and to fostering long-lasting international research partnerships.