Combining global land cover datasets to quantify agricultural expansion into forests in Latin America: Limitations and challenges
Journal article, 2017
While we know that deforestation in the tropics is increasingly driven by commercial agriculture, most tropical countries still lack recent and spatially-explicit assessments of the relative importance of pasture and cropland expansion in causing forest loss. Here we present a spatially explicit quantification of the extent to which cultivated land and grassland expanded at the expense of forests across Latin America in 2001-2011, by combining two "state-of-the-art" global datasets (Global Forest Change forest loss and GlobeLand30-2010 land cover). We further evaluate some of the limitations and challenges in doing this. We find that this approach does capture some of the major patterns of land cover following deforestation, with GlobeLand30-2010's Grassland class (which we interpret as pasture) being the most common land cover replacing forests across Latin America. However, our analysis also reveals some major limitations to combining these land cover datasets for quantifying pasture and cropland expansion into forest. First, a simple one-to-one translation between GlobeLand30-2010's Cultivated land and Grassland classes into cropland and pasture respectively, should not be made without caution, as GlobeLand30-2010 defines its Cultivated land to include some pastures. Comparisons with the TerraClass dataset over the Brazilian Amazon and with previous literature indicates that Cultivated land in GlobeLand30-2010 includes notable amounts of pasture and other vegetation (e.g. in Paraguay and the Brazilian Amazon). This further suggests that the approach taken here generally leads to an underestimation (of up to similar to 60%) of the role of pasture in replacing forest. Second, a large share (similar to 33%) of the Global Forest Change forest loss is found to still be forest according to GlobeLand30-2010 and our analysis suggests that the accuracy of the combined datasets, especially for areas with heterogeneous land cover and/or small-scale forest loss, is still too poor for deriving accurate quantifications of land cover following forest loss.