Theses Doctoral

The Changing Matrix: Reforestation and Connectivity in a Tropical Habitat Corridor

Fagan, Matthew Easton

In the last two decades, export-oriented crops and timber and fruit plantations have joined small-scale cultivation and pasture as important causes of tropical deforestation. Widespread conversion of tropical forest to agriculture threatens to isolate protected areas, which has led to efforts to maintain functional connectivity in landscapes between protected areas. Relatively few "landscape conservation" efforts have been assessed for their effect on deforestation, but advances in remote sensing now permit detailed monitoring of tropical land uses over time, including mapping of tree crops and plantations. This dissertation evaluates the long-term impact of forest conservation and reforestation policies on tropical forests in a habitat corridor. The following chapters test the capability of remote sensing to monitor tropical conservation efforts and assess whether landscape conservation policies can maintain forest cover and connectivity in the face of rapid agricultural expansion. Costa Rica has one of the most comprehensive landscape conservation policies in the tropics: a 1996 Forest Law banned deforestation and expanded payments for environmental services (PES) to protect forests and plant trees, prioritizing designated habitat corridors between protected areas. The long-term effect of the program on land-use transitions is not well known. To take advantage of this regional policy experiment, I used a time-series of five moderate-resolution Landsat images to track land-use change from 1986 to 2011in the oldest habitat corridor, the San Juan-La Selva Biological Corridor (SJLSBC). Forest conservation policies were associated with a 40% decline in deforestation after 1996 despite a doubling in the area of cropland in the last decade. The proportion of cropland derived from mature forest dropped from 16.4% to 1.9% after 1996, while one fifth of pasture expansion continued to be derived from mature forest. These results suggest that forest conservation policies can successfully lower deforestation, and that they can be more effective with large export producers than small-scale cattle producers. Tree plantations are an important component of Costa Rican PES, but knowledge of their distribution and contribution to connectivity in the corridor region is poor. After reviewing the remote sensing literature, I employed a novel integration of hyperspectral images and a Landsat time-series to create the first regional map of tropical tree plantation species. Including multitemporal data significantly improved overall hyperspectral map accuracy to 91%; the six tree plantation species were classified with 83% mean producer's accuracy. Non-native species made up 89% of tree plantations, and they were cleared more rapidly than native tree plantations and secondary forests. I combined existing land cover maps, field behavioral experiments, and a graph connectivity model to estimate whether landscape conservation policies increased connectivity for understory insectivorous birds, a representative forest-dependent group. The field playback experiments indicated both native and exotic tree plantations with a dense shrubby understory were acceptable dispersal habitat for all species, and that birds traveled readily near secondary forest edges but rarely into forested pasture. Graph model parameters were informed by these results. For all of these bird species, functional connectivity declined by 14-21% with only a 4.9% decline in forest area over time, implying that conservation policies have not caused a net increase in functional connectivity in the SJLSBC region. Despite making up 2% of the region, tree plantations had little effect on regional connectivity because of their placement in the landscape; we demonstrate that spatially-targeted reforestation of 0.1% of the region could increase connectivity by 1.8%. Collectively, the results presented in these chapters underline the potential and limitations of landscape conservation policies and corridor plans in the tropics; combining regulations and PES can lower deforestation over the medium-term, but increased enforcement, improved monitoring with remote sensing, and targeted conservation effort is needed to combat illegal deforestation and restore functional connectivity. Given numerous new tropical corridor and PES programs and the qualified successes of landscape conservation policies in Costa Rica and other tropical countries, our approach to the analysis can be applied to monitor and evaluate connectivity across the tropics.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
Thesis Advisors
DeFries, Ruth S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 10, 2014