Conversion of tropical ecosystems to agriculture has caused widespread habitat loss and created fragmented landscapes composed of remnant forest patches embedded in a matrix of agricultural land uses. Recently, agricultural intensification in these landscapes has been replacing heterogeneous agricultural matrices with a diverse mix of pasture and smallholder crops with intensive, large-scale monoculture plantations of export crops such as oil palm, soybeans, and pineapple. Using an interdisciplinary approach, we examine the coupled social and ecological implications of this process of agricultural intensification in a biological corridor in northern Costa Rica, with broader application to regions experiencing similar patterns of agricultural intensification. Guided by frameworks from political ecology and landscape ecology, we 1) describe the social and economic implications of pineapple expansion, 2) quantify the spatial characteristics of pineapple cultivation, and 3) assess the effects of pineapple expansion on surrounding forest ecosystems, on the agricultural matrix and on biodiversity conservation.
Our political ecology analyses show that pineapple production concentrates land, labor, and financial resources, which has a homogenizing effect on the agricultural economy in the study region. This constrains farm-based livelihoods, and negatively impacts food security and agricultural diversity. Results from the landscape ecology analyses indicate that pineapple cultivation measurably simplifies and homogenizes the agricultural matrix between forest patches, which previous research indicates is likely to have a negative effect on biodiversity. We conclude that to offset the effects of pineapple expansion on social and environmental systems, it is necessary to 1) develop landscape-level land use planning capacity and 2) promote agricultural and conservation policy reform to promote landscape heterogeneity and economic diversity within the agricultural sector. Our interdisciplinary research provides a detailed examination of the social and ecological impacts of agricultural intensification in a tropical landscape, and offers recommendations for improvement relevant not only to our study region but also to the many other tropical landscapes currently undergoing agricultural intensification. In addition, our work shows the importance of interdisciplinary collaborations for addressing complex threats to biodiversity conservation.