Multi-agent Models of Land Cover/Land Use Dynamics in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon: Coupling Human and Natural Systems through Pattern-Process Relations and Spatial Simulations

Project Overview

Funding Agency: NASA
Begin Date: January 1, 2006
End Date: December 31, 2007

What are the rates, patterns, and mechanisms of forest conversion to agriculture, pasture, secondary plant succession, and urban uses in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon (NEA) and the Amazon Basin more broadly? What are plausible scenarios of future land cover change and their policy implications? To address these fundamental questions, we will build on our prior studies in the NEA in which a diverse sets of detailed data were collected and analyzed as the basis for this integrative and synthetic study of the causes and consequences of land cover/land use (LCLU) change using agent based models (ABMs).

Agent based models examine the basic characteristics and activities of individual agents as the basic building blocks. Agents differ in important characteristics and their interactions are dynamic, in that, the characteristics of the agents change over time as the agents adapt to their environment, learn from experiences through feedbacks, or “die” as they fail to alter behavior relative to new conditions and/or factors. The dynamics that describe how the system changes are generally nonlinear, sometimes even chaotic, and seldom in any long-term equilibrium. Individual agents may be organized into groups or hierarchies that may influence how the underlying system evolves over time. Complex adaptive systems are self-organized systems that combine local processes to produce holistic systems (Bak 1998). They are emergent and self organizing in that macro-level behaviors emerge from the actions of individual agents as agents learn through experiences and change and develop feedbacks with finer scale building blocks.

We will use (a) an assembled satellite image time-series to characterize LULC change patterns and trajectories for the NEA, (b) ecological pattern metrics to describe the spatial structure of LCLU change at landscape, class, and patch levels, (c) GIS to characterize geographic accessibility and resource endowments of land parcels being transformed from forest to crops, pasture, secondary forest, and urban uses, (d) socio-economic and demographic survey methods and data to characterize households, communities, and indigenous groups (ethnographic approaches as well), (e) logistic regression to understanding the distal and proximate causes and consequences of LULC change and their space-time lags, (f) multi-level models to associate community characteristics to household decision-making about land use at the farm level, and (g) agent based models that rely upon characteristics of households as agents that interact, evolve, and adapt to changing landscape patterns. We will integrate exogenous and endogenous drivers to represent a complex and diverse set of forces and factors operating in the Ecuadorian, Amazon, which together affect LCLU change patterns in fundamental ways in the broader Amazon Basin. We will examine the following set of questions through this proposed research:

  • What are the rates, patterns, and mechanisms of LCLU change in the study sites, and how do they compare and contrast each other?
  • What are the linkages between people, place, and environment on the frontier, and what are the feedback mechanisms between population and the environment that influence LCLU change patterns?
  • How are demographic and other aspects of human behavior changing frontier settings, what are the emergent properties that cause LCLU change to occur, and what are the consequences of LCLU change on the integrity of interconnected social and ecological systems within the Amazon Basin?
  • What are the plausible scenarios of future LCLU change, what are their policy implications, and what tools and approaches can best be used to understand a region that is undergoing dramatic change through the actions and interactions of key stakeholder groups who are interacting in complex ways?
  • Do social, biophysical, and geographical properties of the couple human-environment system that operate in the Amazon Basin emerge from local nonlinear feedbacks that constrain the evolving patterns of land use?