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Journal article

What is still at stake in the Gran Chaco?

Social-ecological impacts of alternative land-system futures in a global deforestation hotspot

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Journal article

What is still at stake in the Gran Chaco?

This study explores land-system futures for the Gran Chaco, a deforestation hotspot with significant biological and cultural diversity. Despite widespread deforestation similar to other dry forests globally, Chaco retains high social-ecological value at risk from agricultural expansion. The authors stress the urgent need for sustainability planning to preserve the well-being of people and nature, detailing how the impacts of land-use scenarios vary by area, expansion rates and policy frameworks.

Florian Gollnow / Published on 27 June 2024


Levers, C., Piquer-Rodríguez, M., Gollnow, F., Baumann, M., Camino, M., Ignacio Gasparri, N., Gavier-Pizarro, G. I., le Polain de Waroux, Y., Müller, D., Nori, J., Pötzschner, F., Romero-Muñoz, A., & Kuemmerle, T. (2024). What is still at stake in the Gran Chaco? Social-ecological impacts of alternative land-system futures in a global deforestation hotspot. Environmental Research Letters, 19(6):064003. DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/ad44b6

Commodity agriculture continues to spread into tropical dry forests globally, eroding their social-ecological integrity. Understanding where deforestation frontiers expand, and which impacts this process triggers, is thus important for sustainability planning.

The authors reconstructed past land-system change (1985–2015) and simulated alternative land-system futures (2015–2045) for the Gran Chaco, a 1.1 million km2 global deforestation hotspot with high biological and cultural diversity. They co-developed nine plausible future land-system scenarios, consisting of three contrasting policy narratives (Agribusiness, Ecomodernism, and Integration) and three agricultural expansion rates (high, medium, and low). They assessed the social-ecological impacts of these scenarios by comparing them with current biodiversity, carbon density, and areas used by forest-dependent people.

Their analyses revealed four major insights. First, intensified agriculture and mosaics of agriculture and remaining natural vegetation have replaced large swaths of woodland since 1985. Second, simulated land-system futures until 2045 revealed potential hotspots of natural vegetation loss (e.g. western and southern Argentinian Chaco, western Paraguayan Chaco), both due to the continued expansion of existing agricultural frontiers and the emergence of new ones. Third, the strongest social-ecological impacts were consistently connected to the Agribusiness scenarios, while impacts were lower for the Ecomodernism and Integration scenarios. Scenarios based on their Integration narrative led to lower social impacts, while Ecomodernism had lower ecological impacts. Fourth, comparing recent land change with these simulations showed that 10% of the Chaco is on a pathway consistent with the Agribusiness narrative, associated with adverse social-ecological impacts.

Their results highlight that much is still at stake in the Chaco. Stricter land-use and conservation planning are urgently needed to avoid adverse social-ecological outcomes, and these results charting the option space of plausible land-system futures can support such planning.

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Florian Gollnow
Florian Gollnow

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