Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

PASANOA - Project description II


State-of-the-art of the topic (Concise literature review)


Land use provides humanity with essential resources, yet it can also cause widespread loss and degradation of natural ecosystems, biodiversity and their ES (Cardinale et al. 2012; Foley et al. 2011; MA 2005). While substantial trade-offs exist between production and conservation goals (Foley et al. 2005), there are also often unrealized potentials for aligning them (Polasky et al. 2008). Moreover, agriculture and biodiversity are not independent, as biodiversity underpins many ecological processes crucial to agriculture (e.g., soil fertility, nitrogen fixation, pollination, pest control, Bommarco et al. 2013) and many species persist in agricultural landscapes (Kleijn et al. 2011; Tscharntke et al. 2005). How to identify optimal landscapes that mitigate trade-offs between agriculture, ES and biodiversity, however, remains a major research challenge (Koh and Ghazoul 2010; Moilanen et al. 2011a; Turner II et al. 2013).

Studies assessing these trade-offs in the tropics are particularly scarce and show mixed outcomes. Some suggest agricultural production can achieve high yields while retaining much biodiversity (Clough et al. 2011; Ranganathan et al. 2008); others find many species are incompatible with land use (Phalan et al. 2011). Moreover, existing assessments have been simplistic in at least three ways (Fischer et al. 2014; Grau et al. 2013). First, spatial heterogeneity in target variables has been disregarded, although biodiversity, agricultural production and ES all vary in space (Grau et al. 2013). Second, existing trade-off analyses have been binary (i.e., yields vs. biodiversity) thereby disregarding ES bundles. Finally, trade-offs are likely scale-dependent, but existing work has focused on single scales. Additional studies addressing these issues in understudied regions are urgently needed.

Savannas and dry forests cover 20% of the world’s land surface, contribute 30% of the global primary productivity, sustain 20% of the world’s human population and harbor exceptional biodiversity. Many of these ecosystems are highly threatened due to rapid agricultural expansion and intensification (Lehmann 2010; Miles et al. 2006). This is particularly so in the Argentine Chaco, where forest conversion and degradation have been rampant due to soybean expansion and intensified cattle ranching (Gasparri and Grau 2009; Gasparri et al. 2013; Grau et al. 2008; Volante et al. 2012), leading to the highest contemporary deforestation rates in the world (Hansen et al. 2013). The consequences of these land changes for ES and biodiversity, however, are unclear.

Current land use trajectories in the Chaco are clearly unsustainable and planners face several major challenges for implementing more sustainable systems. First, although preliminary insights into the trade-offs between agriculture and biodiversity in the Chaco have been made (Macchi et al. 2013; Mastrangelo and Gavin 2012), no study has considered spatial heterogeneity, scale, or ES bundles. Second, although land use pressure on the Chaco is rising (Lambin et al. 2013; von Braun and Diaz-Bonilla 2008; Zak et al. 2008), an assessment of plausible futures in the Chaco is missing. Likewise, trade-offs among alternative land use strategies (e.g., area expansion vs. intensification) remain unassessed. Smart landscape planning can mitigate conflicts between agricultural production and conservation (Chan et al. 2006; Nelson et al. 2008; Polasky et al. 2008; Turner II et al. 2013), but no such assessment has been carried out in the Chaco. Finally, assessments of what determines land users’ decisions are largely missing, although such knowledge is key to identify effective policies.



Main areas of expertise of the project partners relevant to the project


HUB: The Geography Department of Humboldt-University Berlin is a key research base for land use and sustainability science and a major contributor to the Global Land Project. Prof. Kuemmerle carries out research at the interface of land use science and conservation science, with a focus on trade-offs between agriculture and biodiversity. He uses a wide range of spatially explicit, quantitative tools and has worked for several years in the Chaco and Pampas regions together with Argentine researchers.

IAMO: The Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies is a leading institute in the study of transition processes in rural areas. Dr. Müller leads a research group that analyzes land system change across spatial and temporal scales using a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods. In PASANOA, Dr. Müller will work with Dr. Sun who is an expert in analyzing land management decisions using artificial intelligence and simulation models.

INTA-IRB: The Biodiversity, Ecology and Environmental Management Group, led by M.E. Zaccagnini, at the Biological Resources Institute of INTA seeks to understand the response of biodiversity and ES to agriculture. The group closely collaborates with landowners and stakeholders, is highly experienced in biodiversity surveys (mammals, birds, amphibians and arthropod monitoring at field, landscape and regional scales), and uses a range of geospatial and ecological tools. Dr. Gavier-Pizarro leads several projects to assess effects of future land use on biodiversity.

UMdP: The Agroecosystems and Rural Landscapes Group at the National University Mar del Plata, led by Dr. Laterra, has been exploring the ecology of agricultural landscapes in Argentina for over 20 years. The group has pioneered the evaluation of ES in Latin America, leads the continental Vulnerability and Ecosystem Services for Territorial Planning network and developed tools such as ECOSER that evaluates ES for spatial land use planning. Dr. Mastrangelo leads projects focusing on changes in ES due to agricultural intensification and expansion, and has assessed land use and biodiversity trade-offs in the Chaco.

INTA-EEA: The Salta Agricultural Experiment Station of INTA aims to contribute to sustainable development in Argentina’s Northwest by carrying out research projects and engaging in technology transfer in agricultural monitoring and impact assessments. Dr. Volante leads the Laboratory of Remote Sensing and GIS that aims to understand land use dynamics in the Chaco. The team has recently assessed changes in land management, its spatial determinants and the effect of land change on ecosystem service provisioning.

UTuc: The Institute of Regional Ecology of the National University of Tucuman focusses on land use change and its consequences, combining geospatial analyses and field work. Prof. Grau has vast experience in the assessment of the drivers and outcomes of land management changes in the Chaco and elsewhere in Latin America. Dr. Macchi has pioneered the assessment of trade-offs between agricultural production and biodiversity among alternative land use strategies. Dr. Gasparri is an expert in land use effects on carbon emissions in the Chaco region.


Added value of PASANOA compared to state-of-the-art


PASANOA will make four substantial scientific contributions to land system science, conservation science and sustainability science. First, we will generate new knowledge about the trade-offs and synergies between agricultural production, bundles of ES, and biodiversity - and how these trade-offs vary across scales. Both are important for assessing the relative impacts of alternative land management strategies and to understand what characterizes sustainable land systems. Second, we will identify landscapes that mitigate trade-offs between production and conservation, and how these landscapes vary across land management strategies and future scenarios. Broad-scale conservation planning can contribute substantially to mitigating conflicts between agriculture and conservation – in the Chaco and elsewhere - but successful applications are important to highlight the potential of these tools. Third, our project will improve understanding of the future of land systems by assessing how globalization, climate change and socio-economic transformation will affect land use in an understudied region. Fourth, and finally, this project will provide novel insights into land use decision making. The transition from smallholder to agri-business farming currently taking place in the Chaco characterizes many regions in the world. A better understanding of the decision structure of diverse actors is thus important in identifying policy levers to steer this transition.

To make the results of this project available to the scientific community, we will publish at least eight joint papers in peer-reviewed, international journals and present results on international conferences.