Title: Tropical landscapes to meet the climate challenge
Abstract: The managed lands and natural ecosystems constituting tropical landscapes are critical for achieving many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including climate stabilization. These landscapes presently supply agricultural products and livelihoods for billions and exert powerful control on the earth’s atmosphere via hydrologic, energy, and carbon cycling. Moving forward, the fate of tropical landscapes can be expected to meaningfully shape both the cost and speed of global efforts to address and cope with climate change. Most of my research is motivated by this theme. I use combinations of empirical, numerical, and experimental methods to identify policies and practices that can ready tropical landscapes to confront the climate challenge. I have investigated themes such as biophysical and socioeconomic drivers of agricultural productivity; the consequences of agricultural, development, and environmental policies; and climate impacts to human activity. Several of these past projects inform the primary focus of my research at present—the costs and consequences of converting tropical ecosystems given biosphere-atmosphere coupling. In this talk, I will present initial findings from a new project on this theme. The work assesses the value of climate regulation services for soy and cattle businesses and local governments who together can protect the ecosystems of the Cerrado and Amazon biomes of Brazil. The project focuses on a set of earth system indicators that are both sensitive to land use and land cover change and that can be expected to exert strong control on crop and/or livestock productivity. These metrics include the incidence of extreme heat, vapor pressure deficit, heat index, fire risk, and rainy season onset and duration. Our initial findings suggest that, in the immediate term, ecosystem conversion can impose sizeable costs for agribusinesses by disrupting valuable climate regulation services. Since these impacts can be highly concentrated, they can alone justify conservation of tropical ecosystems. I will close by discussing next steps in the project and my plans to deploy related methodologies in my future research.