Article

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: 2.09). 07/2012; 102(4):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.

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