The spontaneous emergence of silvo-pastoral landscapes in the Ecuadorian Amazon: patterns and processes

Amy M. Lerner, Thomas K. Rudel, Laura C. Schneider, Megan McGroddy, Diana V. Burbano, Carlos F. Mena

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


With the continuing decline in the global extent of tropical forests, agriculture-dominated landscapes now cover approximately 50 % of the tropical biome. In this context, our ability to understand and influence biodiversity and carbon sequestration in the tropics depends in large part on our understanding of actively managed landscapes. Approximately two-third of deforested lands become pasture in the Neotropics, and therefore, significant changes in their structure represent a potentially important development in terms of carbon sequestration and biodiversity, especially as ecosystem service payment schemes such as REDD+ emerge. The spontaneous emergence of silvo-pastoral landscapes, or pastures with trees, in formerly treeless pastures in the southern Ecuadorian Amazon represents just this kind of potentially significant shift in the structure of landscapes. In this paper, we try to explain this change in pastoral landscapes. Field surveys indicate variable densities of trees in pastures, with stem densities ranging from 30 to 400 per hectare. Analyses of interviews with the heads of small cattle ranching enterprises suggest that cattle ranchers pursue an intentional management strategy of allowing trees to regrow in working pastures to an extent that is ecologically significant. These findings confirm that even cattle ranches, albeit small in scale, can simultaneously produce food and provide important ecosystem services like carbon sequestration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1421-1431
Number of pages11
JournalRegional Environmental Change
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 23 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change


  • Amazon
  • Carbon sink
  • Deforestation
  • Ecuador
  • REDD+
  • Silvo-pastoral landscapes


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