The Relative Importance of Socioeconomic and Environmental Variables in Explaining Land Change in Bolivia, 2001–2010

Annals of the Association of American Geographers (Impact Factor: 2.17). 07/2012; 102:778-807. DOI: 10.1080/00045608.2012.678036

ABSTRACT This study assesses the relationship between trends in land change from 2001 to 2010 and socioeconomic and environmental variables in Bolivia at multiple spatial scales using a nonparametric, tree-based modeling approach. It also explores the theoretical dimensions surrounding the debate over the relative importance of socioeconomic and environmental variables in explaining land change. Results from the land change analysis show several hotspots of dynamic change. The majority of woody vegetation loss occurred in the eastern lowlands of Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando and was attributable to the expansion of industrial agriculture. Gains in woody vegetation took place in the drylands of Santa Cruz and Beni savanna, and these changes were attributed to shifting patterns in precipitation and fire rather than human-induced change. Other hotspots of woody vegetation gain were attributed to abandonment of agriculture and herbaceous lands in the intermontane valleys of the southern Andes. Regression analyses showed that population and other demographic variables were poor predictors of land change. There is a clear relationship, however, between changes in woody and agriculture/herbaceous vegetation and environmental variables such as precipitation, temperature, and elevation. Municipalities with adequate precipitation and moderate temperature tended to show increases in agriculture and herbaceous vegetation and woody vegetation declines. Woody vegetation tended to increase in municipalities at higher elevations. This study also shows that explanations of only wealth or population as the main drivers of land change undervalue the role that natural features, like topography and precipitation, play in limiting or permitting certain land-use decisions. Este estudio evalúa la relación entre las tendencias de cambios de la tierra de 2001 a 2010 y variables socioeconómicas y ambientales en Bolivia, a escalas espaciales múltiples, utilizando un enfoque de modelo no paramétrico basado en el árbol. El estudio también explora las dimensiones teóricas de rodean el debate sobre la importancia relativa de las variables socioeconómicas y ambientales para explicar las transformaciones de la tierra. Los resultados del análisis del cambio de uso de la tierra muestran varios puntos críticos con cambio dinámico. La mayor parte de la pérdida de vegetación arbórea ocurrió en las tierras bajas orientales de Santa Cruz, Beni y Pando, proceso que se atribuye a la expansión de la agricultura industrial. Lo que se ha ganado en recuperación de vegetación arbórea ocurrió en las tierras secas de Santa Cruz y en la sabana de Beni, cambios que se han atribuido a los cambiantes patrones de precipitaciones y fuego más que a cambios inducidos por el hombre. Otros puntos notables de avance de la vegetación arbórea se atribuyen al abandono de tierras agrícolas y pastizales en los valles intermontanos de los Andes sureños. Los análisis de regresión mostraron que la población y otras variables demográficas resultaron ser pobres vaticinadores de cambios de la tierra. Hay, sin embargo, una relación clara entre los cambios de vegetación arbórea y agricultura/vegetación herbácea y variables ambientales tales como precipitación, temperatura y elevación. Los municipios que tenían precipitación adecuada y temperatura moderada tendían a mostrar incrementos en agricultura y vegetación herbácea, y declinación de la vegetación arbórea. La vegetación herbácea tendía a aumentar en los municipios situados a mayor elevación. Este estudio también muestra que las explicaciones que asignan a la riqueza y a la población la responsabilidad de causar los cambios de la tierra subvaloran el papel que juegan elementos naturales como la topografía y la precipitación para limitar o permitir ciertas decisiones relacionadas con los usos del suelo.

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