Sustainable Landscapes

Agriculture is expanding rapidly into the tropical forests and savannas of America, Africa, and Asia in response to global demands for food and fuel, which negatively impacts local and global climates. At the same time, international and national pressures to conserve remaining forest and reduce carbon emissions monitoringfrom deforestation and degradation are increasing. Thus, in the tropics a dynamic tension has developed among development and conservation goals. WHRC helps tropical nations achieve those goals.

Development of sound sustainability policies requires information and human capacity. WHRC provides the cutting edge science and hands-on training needed for successful economic development without further deforestation and degradation of ecosystem services. We apply a unique suite of tools based on field research, satellite remote sensing, and numerical modeling. Application of this these tools allows us to understand the causes and consequences of human activities from the farm field and forest stand to national and international levels and to communicate our results to farmers, ranchers, indigenous groups, and local, state and federal agencies.

Deforestation directly affects local climate – increasing land temperature and reducing the amount of water in the climate system. Fires of human origin burn large areas of rainforest during drought years.
The Sustainable Landscapes team works across scales from the farm field to global. We have been conducting field experiments for more than decade on a 200,000 acre soybean farm in Mato Grosso, which lies at the epicenter of Brazilian agricultural expansion. Our research activities include multi-acre scale experiments manipulating fire and nutrient flows, soil and stream monitoring, combined with satellite imaging and computer models to identify the impacts of deforestation and new agricultural practices on the climate system.

Sustainable Landscapes Program scientists participate in and publish extensively on international and national initiatives aimed at reducing tropical deforestation such as UNFCCC REDD+ and the Brazilian Forest Code. Partnerships with in-country governmental and non-governmental agencies puts our information into the right hands. Thus, we are able to answer globally important questions such as: Where are human activities and influences concentrated? What are the ecological feedbacks and impacts of these activities? At what scales do these activities and processes occur? What levers exist to help simultaneously achieve development and conservation goals? How can activities be monitored, reported, and verified? How can we communicate our results to relevant stakeholders?

A key goal of the Sustainable Landscapes Program is to train the next generation of Brazilian researchers and engage and inform the public about the connections between demand for agricultural products, changing agricultural practices, forest degradation, and a changing climate. We provide the opportunity for Brazilian and American students and postdoctoral fellows to work together in the field on important environmental issues. WHRC routinely hosts Brazilian students, postdoctoral fellows, and career scientists in Woods Hole in order to broaden their educational experiences. The Center takes part in educational programs at Brazilian universities.