Land-Use Change

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Land-Use Change

A multitude of variables drive changes in human land use—migration between rural and urban zones, reconfiguration of livelihoods in response to global markets, and shifts from pastoralism to agriculture, among others.

Land-use change often catalyzes a cascade of effects across ecological and social systems. From highly localized consequences like loss of breeding habitats to globalized effects such as releasing previously sequestered carbon into the atmosphere, land-use change is multiscalar and complex. Grounding this complexity in regional examples, SFS programs provide students the opportunity to observe, engage with, and ask questions of land-use change processes.



Northeastern Queensland’s ancient rainforests once supported extensive rainforests, but logging, mining, and agricultural production over the past two centuries have destroyed and degraded rainforest habitats, disrupting the patterns and processes that keep these forests vibrant. Students use spatial tools, such as GIS, to assess land-use change and habitat use by different species. We engage with Aboriginal elders to learn more about their culture and efforts to reclaim their role in land management.


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Land-use change is impacting the ecological and socioeconomic landscape of Costa Rica, particularly around our host community, Atenas. As coffee farms compete with gated communities owned by wealthy locals or expats, the negative consequences are reflected in the exclusion of the local people. Real estate prices are going up, excluding local Costa Ricans, which has resulted in the loss of cultural heritage, changes in forest and agricultural cover, and more pressure on water resources and utilities.


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Students are introduced to lands-rights issues affecting indigenous peoples via their introduction to tourism and development. This is particularly important to understand in the Bocas del Toro region since many land disputes are still active and have profound impacts on indigenous people in the region. Students will hear guest lectures from indigenous lawyers and affected citizens.


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Changing land-use practices occurring among the Maasai, Iraqw, and other ethnic groups are influencing the current wildlife conservation and rural development practices in the Maasai Steppe of Tanzania. The traditional nomadic, pastoral lifestyles of the Maasai and other groups have long maintained the integrity of open landscapes that serve as critical migration corridors and dispersal areas for wide-ranging wildlife species, such as elephant, wildebeest, and zebra. Students identify the drivers of land-use change, as well as the implications for wildlife conservation and local communities’ livelihood needs.


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