Optimizing land use decision-making to sustain Brazilian agricultural profits, biodiversity and ecosystem services
Designing landscapes that can meet the full range of human needs and promote critical ecosystem services and biodiversity, is necessary to achieve long-term sustainability but is rarely implemented in practice. A step toward moving from theory into the practice of sustainable land use is identifying the trade-offs, thresholds, and complementarities in the provision of ecosystem services, biodiversity, and economic profit. Here we illustrate an innovative land use planning approach that integrates spatially-explicit economic and biophysical models to optimize agriculture (sugarcane production and cattle ranching), biodiversity (bird and mammal species) and water quality (nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment retention) in a global biodiversity hotspot, the Cerrado biome in Brazil. We employ spatial optimization techniques that illustrate the maximum attainable values for these three services for any given combination of natural habitat and agricultural land, thus, generating efficiency frontiers. To examine the trade-offs between biodiversity and water quality, we generate frontiers that varied their importance (or weight). We further compare these optimal frontiers with those that implement the constraints of the Brazilian Forest Code (FC), a federal law that regulates conservation on private lands. To parameterize the models, we use detailed data from a 400,000ha watershed in the Brazilian Cerrado.
We find that there are clear opportunities to improve both agriculture and the environmental in our study region. For example, by strategically locating natural vegetation to best meet conservation objectives with low opportunity costs to agriculture, the same agricultural profit is predicted to be supported while maintaining 100 additional species in the landscape and reducing the total nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediments reaching waterways by more than 3, 1.5, and 1.2 times, respectively. These specific outcomes, however, depend on the weights attributed to the different services. Significant trade-offs between land use management for biodiversity versus for water quality are detected but can be reconciled by jointly optimizing for both. Compliance with Brazil’s Forest Code achieves the best environmental outcomes when implemented at a landscape (watershed)-scale rather than the status quo property (farm)-scale and can approximate outcomes similar to the optimal efficiency frontiers. These results suggest that through joint (coordinated) economic and environmental land management at a landscape-scale Brazil’s agricultural sector can expand its production and meet regulatory requirements in a way that will better benefit conservation, local people, and business.