In a post-workshop field trip, participants learn about a ecological restoration project in the Ecuadorian Chocó (Photo: Kenneth Young)

In a post-workshop field trip, participants learned about an ecological restoration project in the Ecuadorian Chocó (Photo: Kenneth Young)

Land use trends are a main driver of environmental change. To explore patterns, future scenarios, and research agendas related to land cover and land use change in the Tropical Andes, an MRI synthesis workshop was held in Quito, Ecuador, 27-29 September 2017.

The Tropical Andes represent a global biodiversity hotspot, and regulate environmental services such as watershed and soil protection that affect millions of people. Due to steep topography and frequent cloud cover, however, remote sensing analyses of land cover change in the region are limited to specific locations and time periods.

To go some way towards addressing this, an MRI synthesis workshop was held in September 2017 in Quito, Ecuador, and attended by experts on different aspects of land science and ecosystem services working in the Andes of Venezuela, Colombia, Perú, Bolivia, and northern Argentina. The goal was to evaluate the results of a region-wide analysis of land cover change based on medium spatial resolution and high temporal resolution satellite images (Terra MODIS). Maps of trends in land cover (woodland, grassland, cropland, bare soil) over a period of 15 years (2001-2015) were assessed and validated by comparing them with the overall perception of change by local experts, with literature, and with local analyses based on other images of better spatial resolution.

Future steps
The results showed areas of both deforestation and woodland expansion. Having agreed on which analyses were most reliable, participants planned for further local validation. Final analyses will be concluded by the beginning of 2018, with the goal being to have one major paper on changes in woodland cover in the Tropical Andes (2001-2015) and the relationship with elevational and socioeconomic gradients finished by June 2018. In addition, participants explored the potential of using the data for other analyses (e.g., a national level analysis of more land cover classes and their relationship with demographic and land use data, only available in some countries). This will be discussed once the main continental scale analysis has developed further.

At the end of the workshop, the participants developed a portfolio of emerging research questions, among which the analysis of land use trajectories in different socioecological contexts emerged as a key topic. Implications for land use policies and nature conservation were also discussed. Follow-up activities that could include the organization of special sessions at the Global Land Programme Open Science Conference (Bern, April 2019) and the Mountains 2018 Conference (Rio de Janeiro, December 2018) are planned in collaboration with the GLP Mountain Land Science Working Group.

This blog post was written by Ricardo Grau, a member of the MRI Scientific Leadership Council and Professor at the University of Tucuman, Argentina.