Understanding differences in land systems and their social-ecological impacts within and across ecoregions in South America

Collaborating Scientists: J-Prof. Dr. Renata Motta (FU), Prof. Dr. Patrick Hostert (HU) and PD Dr. Daniel Müller (HU)

Project Outline

Land use is crucial for human societies, providing essential food, feed and materials. At the same time, land-use has major impacts on the environment and is a driver of many of the major sustainability challenges we face in the 21st century – from climate change to soil erosion to the ongoing biodiversity crisis. Understanding these trade-offs, and finding ways to manage them, is therefore a central challenge for science and for society at large. Trade-offs between land use, and agriculture in particular, and the socio-environment do not play out randomly in space. Often, those regions that are best for agriculture also harbor high levels of carbon and biodiversity. Likewise, many of these regions are culturally rich, for example harboring many ethnic groups. Trade-offs are mediated both via environmental conditions (e.g., agro-ecological conditions) and the institutional setup (e.g., governance systems, policy frameworks), yet which of these sets of factors dominate is often unclear. Understanding how these factors shape geographies of trade-offs is therefore important to identify ways how they can be managed– and thus how regions could develop sustainably. The overarching goal of my proposal is to explore whether environmental or institutional conditions are more important in shaping the trade-offs between agricultural development and socio-ecological systems. I will approach this question using a land-system framework, where land systems are defined as social-ecological systems where interactions between nature and society happen dominantly via land use (agriculture in my case). I will focus on South America, and here on the agricultural regions from Amazonia (Brazil) to the Pampas (Argentina), a region of about 5 million square kilometers. This region is a perfect case study, as it is among the most important agricultural regions of the world, provides a large variety of environmental and governmental setups, and has several ecoregions that extend across multiple countries. This provides a unique natural experiment situation to understand the importance of environmental vs. institutional factors.

My project will characterize agricultural land systems and will assess transboundary differences within transnational ecoregions and across national ecoregions in South America (obj. 1). It will also evaluate environmental and social indices for this region (obj. 2). Together, this will allow assessing potential socio-economic and environmental trade-offs (obj 3). As a result, I will be able to discuss if ecological or institutional conditions shape socio-environmental impacts in agricultural regions. The results of my project will deepen our understanding on the power of institutions in achieving sustainable development and thus have direct relevance for sustainability science as well as for policy making and governance in the region.


Nuñez-Regueiro, M.; Branch, L.C.; Derlindati, E.; Gasparri, I.; Marinaro, S.; Nanni, S; Núñez Godoy, C.; Piquer-Rodríguez, M.; Soto, J.R.; Tálamo, A. (accepted). Open Standards for Conservation as a tool for linking research and conservation agendas in complex socio-ecological systems. Curr. Op. Env. Sust.

Aznar-Sánchez, José A., Piquer-Rodríguez M., Velasco Muñoz J., Manzano-Agugliaro F. (2019). Worldwide research trends on sustainable land use in agriculture. Land Use Policy 87.

Torrella S. A., Piquer-Rodríguez M., Levers C., Ginzburg R., Gavier-Pizarro G., and Kuemmerle T. (2018) Multiscale spatial planning to maintain forest connectivity in the Argentine Chaco in the face of deforestation. Ecology and Society 23(4):37.

Piquer-Rodríguez, M., Baumann, M., Butsic, V., Gasparri N.I., Gavier Pizarro G., Volante, J.N., Müller, D.,Kuemmerle T. (2018). “The potential impact of economic policies on future land-use conversions in Argentina” Land Use Policy 79:57-67.

Nolte C., Gobbi B., Le Polain de Waroux Y., Piquer-Rodríguez M., Butsic V., Lambin E.F. (2018). "Challenges in Attributing Avoided Deforestation to Policies and Actors: Lessons From Provincial Forest Zoning in the Argentine Dry Chaco." Ecological Economics 150: 346-352.

Piquer-Rodríguez, M., Butsic, V., Gärtner, P., Macchi, L., Baumann, M., Gasparri N.I., Gavier Pizarro G., Volante, J.N., Kuemmerle T. (2018). "Drivers of agricultural land-use change in the Argentine Pampas and Chaco regions." Applied Geography 91: 111-122.

Fehlenberg V., Baumann M., Gasparri N.I., Piquer-Rodríguez M., Gavier Pizarro G., Kuemmerle T. (2017) The role of soybean expansion as underlying driver of deforestation in the South American Chaco. Global Environmental Change 45.

Nolte C., Gobbi B., Le Polain de Waroux Y., Piquer-Rodríguez M., Butsic V., Lambi E.F. (2017) Decentralized land use zoning reduces large-scale deforestation in a major agricultural frontier. Ecological Economics 136, 30-40.

Kuemmerle, T. […] Piquer-Rodríguez M. […] (2017) When highlighting dry forests in need of conservation, don’t forget the Gran Chaco. Science (letter) 355(6324): 465–465.

Baumann M., Israel C., Piquer-Rodríguez M., Gavier Pizarro G., Volante J.N., Kuemmerle T. (2017) Deforestation and cattle expansion in the Paraguayan Chaco 1987-2012. Regional Environmental Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10113-017-1109-5

Baumann, M., Gasparri, I., Piquer-Rodríguez, M., Gavier Pizarro, G., Griffiths, P., Hostert, P. and Kuemmerle,T. (2016), Carbon emissions from agricultural expansion and intensification in the Chaco. Global Change Biology. doi:10.1111/gcb.13521

Piquer-Rodríguez M., Torella S., Gavier-Pizarro G., Volante J., Somma D., Ginzburg R., Kuemmerle T. (2015) Effects of past and future land conversions on forest connectivity in the Argentine Chaco. Landscape Ecology 30(5): 817-833

Bragina E.V., Ives A.R., Pidgeon A.M., Kuemmerle T., Baskin L.M., Gubar Y.P., Piquer-Rodríguez M., Keuler N.S., Petrosyan V.G., Radeloff V.C. (2015) Rapid declines of large mammal populations after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Conservation Biology 29(3): 844–853

Piquer-Rodríguez M., Kuemmerle T., Alcaraz-Segura D., Zurita-Milla R., Cabello J (2012) Future land use effects on the connectivity of protected area networks in southeastern Spain. Journal for Nature Conservation 20(6):326-336