Spatial Dynamics and Drivers of Land Use and Land Cover Change in Colombia: Implications for Biodiversity Conservation
Sánchez Cuervo, Ana María
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This dissertation focuses on understanding different aspects of land use and land cover change in Colombia from 2001 to 2010 and the implications for biodiversity conservation. Land use and land cover dynamics during the last decade were mapped, and analyses of these maps were conducted at multiple spatial scales. In addition, numerous variables (i.e. socio-economic, environmental, armed conflict) were evaluated to determine their association with forest cover change. In addition, hotspots of deforestation and reforestation and drivers of change were identified to assess their implications on present and future protected areas. Finally, priority areas for conservation in Colombia were identified by analyzing the geographic congruence between forest cover change and biodiversity patterns for over 3,000 species of amphibians, birds, and mammals. Overall, woody vegetation gains exceed losses at the national scale and occurred mostly in the Moist Forest biome. Analysis at the ecoregion scale showed that montane forest ecoregions contributed substantially to woody vegetation regrowth in Colombia, while the Llanos and Apure-Villavicencio ecoregions experienced the largest woody vegetation losses. Environmental variables were important in explaining woody cover change from the country to the ecoregion scales since environment conditions can either restrict or encourage different land uses. The armed conflict variables (i.e. forced displacement and presence of paramilitary groups) were important in explaining woody cover change at the ecoregion scale. In some areas, forced human displacement has promoted land abandonment leading to forest regrowth mainly in rural areas. In other areas, the presence of the armed groups have had a large impacts on local patterns of forest cover change, especially promoting deforestation through overuse and empowerment of natural resources. Four deforestation and four reforestation hotspots were identified in the country. Environmental and armed conflict variables explained most of the variation in the woody vegetation and agriculture/pasture classes, respectively. Although protected areas cover 12% of the country, only 4% of the reforestation and deforestation hotspots included protected areas. In addition, two alternative approaches were highlighted for the establishment of new protected areas: regions that are undergoing rapid land change (deforestation hotpots) or regions where agricultural activities have been abandoned and ecosystems are beginning to recovery (reforestation hotspots). Finally, we identified two major priority areas for vertebrate conservation in less than 1% of the national territory where high richness overlapped mostly with hotspots of deforestation (i.e. vulnerable areas for richness conservation) while high endemism overlapped mostly with hotspots of reforestation (i.e. potential areas for endemism conservation).