Armenteras, D; Rodriguez, N; Retana, J (2013). Landscape Dynamics in Northwestern Amazonia: An Assessment of Pastures, Fire and Illicit Crops as Drivers of Tropical Deforestation. PLOS ONE, 8(1), 10.1371/journal.pone.0054310.
Many studies have identified drivers of deforestation throughout the tropics and, in most cases, have recognised differences in the level of threat. However, only a few have also looked at the temporal and spatial dynamics by which those drivers act, which is critical for assessing the conservation of biodiversity as well as for landscape planning. In this study, we analyse land cover change between 2000 and 2009 in north-western Colombian Amazonia to identify the interactions between the use of fire, cultivation of illicit crops and establishment of pastures, and their impacts on the loss of forest in the region. Yearly analyses were undertaken at randomly selected sample areas to quantify the average areas of transition of land cover types under different landscape compositions: forest-dominated mosaics, pasture mosaics, fire mosaics, and illicit crop mosaics. Our results indicate that despite the fact that forest areas were well-preserved, deforestation occurred at a low annual rate (0.06%). Conversion to pasture was the main factor responsible for forest loss (the area of pastures tripled within forest mosaics over 8 years), and this process was independent of the landscape matrix in which the forests were located. In fire mosaics, burning is a common tool for forest clearing and conversion to pasture. Thus, forests in fire mosaics were highly disturbed and frequently transformed from primary to secondary forests. The use of fire for illicit cropping was not detected, partly due to the small size of common illicit crops. Forest regeneration from pastures and secondary vegetation was observed in areas with large amounts of natural forest. Overall, assuming the continuation of the observed pasture conversion trend and the use of forest fire, we suggest that our results should be incorporated into a spatially explicit and integrated decision support tool to target and focus land-planning activities and policies.