Projecting land use changes in the Neotropics: the geography of pasture expansion into forest

T. Wassenaar, P. Gerber, P.H. Verburg, M. Rosales, M. Ibrahim, H. Steinfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

193 Citations (Scopus)


In tropical Latin America, pasture land for extensive grazing continues to expand, mostly at the expense of forest cover. Until now, scientists and policy makers tackling this issue had no geographically exhaustive information at the continental level about the spatial dynamics of this process. On the basis of a land use change-modeling framework we made a projection of potential land use changes for the year 2010. The chosen modeling framework incorporates a number of essential aspects of the complexity of land use change, such as the interrelation of spatial and temporal dynamics, land use history and scale dependence. The model was provided with up-to-date, continent wide, detailed information on present land use and its location factors, selected on the basis of literature. Model inputs were established in collaboration with experts from the region. Significant statistical relations were obtained that describe land use patterns in sub-regions, giving insights into the deforestation process and its location factors. Combined with decision rules and quantitative estimates of land use change, ¿hot spots¿ of forest to pasture and crop land conversion were projected. The results envisage a predominant replacement of forest by pasture. Substantially different trends among countries are predicted, both concerning the spatial patterns of deforestation and the substitution trends between land uses. The hot spot maps also show sensitive biological areas that may be at risk. The resulting continent wide map of projected change shall help to target policy attention and measures. It also provides a context to the numerous undergoing deforestation case studies. Finally, it is proposed that the study's results be considered in the priority setting of future research on the causes of deforestation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-104
JournalGlobal environmental change : human and policy dimensions
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • brazilian amazon
  • cover change
  • tropical deforestation
  • economic-models
  • spatial scales
  • dynamics
  • patterns
  • conservation
  • destruction
  • degradation


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