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Land use change patterns in the Río de la Plata grasslands: The influence of phytogeographic and political boundaries

Vega, Ernesto, Baldi, German, Jobbágy, Esteban G., Paruelo, José
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2009 v.134 no.3-4 pp. 287-292
grasslands, land use change, spatial variation, phytogeography, geographical variation, temporal variation, Landsat, image analysis, forests, agricultural land, crops, afforestation, agricultural policy, forest policy, environmental policy, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil
The Río de la Plata grasslands (RPG) in South America are one of the largest temperate grasslands regions of the world. This region plays a key role in international crop production and land use change rates in some areas are among the highest detected nowadays. Our objective was to characterize the spatial heterogeneity of land use change dynamics in the RPG and to relate it with biophysical and political boundaries. Based on Landsat imagery we characterized land use changes at two time periods (1986-1990, 2002-2005) and we performed a comparison of markovian models and their properties (stable proportion vector and sensitivity analysis) for each phytogeographic district and country of the region. Temporal transitions between natural and implanted forests (Fo), crops (Cr), and grasslands (Gr) were calculated in order to build matrix probabilistic models. We found that 1.2x10⁶ ha of grassland surface has been transformed into implanted forests and croplands (6% reduction of grasslands, 60% increase of afforestations, 3% increase of croplands). Transition probability Cr[rightward arrow]Cr displayed the largest spatial variation, followed by the other three transitions linking croplands and grasslands (Cr[rightward arrow]Gr, Gr[rightward arrow]Gr, Gr[rightward arrow]Cr). The less variable transition rate among districts was Cr[rightward arrow]Fo. Projections for Argentina and parts of Uruguay suggest that grassland loss would continue in most of analyzed territory, whereas in Brazil and parts of Uruguay the projected trend was the opposite, grassland cover would increase. Forested area increment would continue in Uruguay and partially in Argentina, while in Brazil it would decrease. Considering the whole region, crop area would maintain the increasing trends. Transition probabilities for the same phytogeographical district (Northern Campos) differed significantly among the three countries that occupy it, showing the relative importance of human context driving land use change.