Spatial patterns of agricultural expansion determine impacts on biodiversity and carbon storage

Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer, Richard P. Sharp, Lisa Mandle, Sarah Sim, Justin Johnson, Isabela Butnar, Llorenç Milà I Canals, Bradley A. Eichelberger, Ivan Ramler, Carina Mueller, Nikolaus McLachlan, Anahita Yousefi, Henry King, Peter M. Kareiva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

203 Scopus citations


The agricultural expansion and intensification required to meet growing food and agri-based product demand present important challenges to future levels and management of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Influential actors such as corporations, governments, and multilateral organizations have made commitments to meeting future agricultural demand sustainably and preserving critical ecosystems. Current approaches to predicting the impacts of agricultural expansion involve calculation of total land conversion and assessment of the impacts on biodiversity or ecosystem services on a per-area basis, generally assuming a linear relationship between impact and land area. However, the impacts of continuing land development are often not linear and can vary considerably with spatial configuration. We demonstrate what could be gained by spatially explicit analysis of agricultural expansion at a large scale compared with the simple measure of total area converted, with a focus on the impacts on biodiversity and carbon storage. Using simple modeling approaches for two regions of Brazil, we find that for the same amount of land conversion, the declines in biodiversity and carbon storage can vary two- to fourfold depending on the spatial pattern of conversion. Impacts increase most rapidly in the earliest stages of agricultural expansion and are more pronounced in scenarios where conversion occurs in forest interiors compared with expansion into forests from their edges. This study reveals the importance of spatially explicit information in the assessment of land-use change impacts and for future land management and conservation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7402-7407
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
StatePublished - Jun 16 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Agricultural expansion
  • Deforestation
  • Ecosystem services
  • Edge effects
  • Fragmentation


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