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Agricultural Abandonment, Suburban Growth, and Forest Expansion in Puerto Rico between 1991 and 2000

Isabel K Parés-Ramos, University of Puerto Rico
William A Gould, International Institute of Tropical Forestry - USDA Forest Service
T. Mitchell Aide, University of Puerto Rico

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Abstract

The response of local economies to the globalization process can have a large effect on population and land-use dynamics. In countries with a high population density and relatively high levels of education, the globalization process has resulted in a shift in the local economy from agriculture to manufacturing, technology, and service sectors. This shift in the economy has impacted land-use dynamics by decreasing agricultural lands, increasing urban growth, and in some cases, increasing forest cover. This process of economic and forest transition has been well documented in Puerto Rico for the period 1950 to 1990, but some authors predicted that poor planning and continued urban growth would eliminate the gains in forest cover. To investigate the impacts of recent economic changes, we evaluated demographic and land-use changes for 880 “barrios” (i.e., neighborhoods), the smallest administrative unit, in Puerto Rico using government census data from 1990 and 2000 and land-cover classifications from 1991 and 2000. During this period, the population increased by 284 127 people (8.2%). Most of the growth was in the suburban barrios, whereas urban barrios lost population. This shift was reflected by the construction of more than 100 000 housing units in suburban barrios. Although urban sprawl is perceived as the major land-cover change, urban cover only increased from 10% to 11% between 1990 and 2000, whereas the increase in forest cover was much greater (28% to 40%). Grasslands and shrublands were the major sources of new urban and forest areas in 2000. Although these results are encouraging in terms of increasing forest cover, most of the new development has been concentrated in the coastal plains, which are the location of most of the remaining agricultural areas, a few protected areas, and threatened ecosystems (e.g., mangroves).

Key words

agriculture decline; forest expansion; forest transition; globalization; land use-cover change; suburban population growth; Puerto Rico
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087