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The forest transition in São Paulo, Brazil: historical patterns and potential drivers

Adriane Calaboni, Departamento de Ecologia, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, SP, Brasil
Leandro R. Tambosi, Centro de Engenharia, Modelagem e Ciências Sociais Aplicadas, Universidade Federal do ABC, Santo André, SP, Brasil
Alexandre T. Igari, Escola de Artes, Ciências e Humanidades, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, SP, Brasil
Juliana S. Farinaci, Centro de Ciência do Sistema Terrestre, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, São José dos Campos, SP, Brasil
Jean Paul Metzger, Departamento de Ecologia, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, SP, Brasil
Maria Uriarte, Department of Ecology, Evolution & Environmental Biology, Columbia University, New York, NY, United States of America


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Agricultural expansion has caused extensive deforestation throughout the tropics in the last decades, nevertheless, some countries have experienced native forest gains. In the 20th century, the state of São Paulo, Brazil, transitioned from an agricultural frontier to an agro-industrial state, and in parallel, from a high deforestation rate to a net gain in native forest. Here we examine the biophysical and socioeconomic factors that best explain land use and forest cover change in the state, at the municipality scale, over four consecutive intervals between 1960 and 2006. We hypothesized that factors that increase the productivity of agricultural land or reduce pressure on land development would lead to regeneration. Although results differed among intervals, our analyses demonstrate that forest gains were greater in municipalities with high forest cover percentage and steep slopes, and in areas that employed a large number of workers and relied on intensive fertilizer inputs. At the same time, forest loss was higher in municipalities with a large portion of agricultural land and soils with higher water retention capacity. These results reveal that land-use expansion led to forest loss in areas more suitable for agriculture, while forest gains occurred mainly in less suitable areas. Over time, agricultural expansion leveled off and agriculture intensification enabled forest gains, which were most marked in areas with a high percentage of forest remnants. Ultimately, however, these proximate drivers of forest change were driven by governmental policies to modernize agriculture and to protect natural ecosystems.

Key words

agriculture modernization; forest cover change; land-use change; São Paulo

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087