My favourity paper of the week is: “Agricultural intensification in Brazil and its effects on land-use patterns: an analysis of the 1975–2006 period”

Barretto, A.G., Berndes, G., Sparovek, G., Wirsenius, S. (2013) Agricultural intensification in Brazil and its effects on land use patterns: An analysis of the 1975‐2006 period. Global Change Biology. Abstract.

I guess my choice of this paper is somewhat affected by the fact that our PNAS paper on agricultural intensification in DRC was published also this week and I think that Barretto et al study is a very good piece of empirical evidence to our modelling approach.

The important question: “does agricultural intensification spare land for conservation?”. Remains controversial. Empirical spatially explicit studies such as that published this week in Global Change Biology by Barretto et al. shed light in this area.

One of their main results is that there are two types of dynamics depending whether it is an “agriculturally consolidated” area or agriculture at the forest frontier. Agricultural intensification in the consolidated area will lead to land sparing BUT in the forest frontier it will lead to crop expansion and presumably deforestation.

The reason behind the dynamics in consolidated areas is that land is scarce and producers need to intensify without the opportunity of expansion. This is not the case in the forest frontier.

Finally, they show that forest land conversion can be countered with adequate policies that protect forests as shown in the Atlantic Forest biome.

Overall a very good paper highly recommended.

My favourite paper of the week is… “Socioeconomic and political trade-offs in biodiversity conservation: a case study of the Cerrado Biodiversity Hotspot, Brazil”

Frederico V. Faleiro and Rafael D. Loyola (2013) Socioeconomic and political trade-offs in biodiversity conservation: a case study of the Cerrado Biodiversity Hotspot, Brazil. Diversity and distributions. 1-11. article.


I really enjoyed reading this article this week. Very often we see spatial conservation papers that base their recommendations only on ecological reasons. This is great but may not agree with political will—whose inclusion in this paper is rather innovative—or the opportunity costs of having other land uses in certain areas. This article is a great example of how spatial conservation priorities change when other criteria are incorporated and, interestingly, how it is possible to find areas where conservation can match political will and avoid conflict with other land uses.

The methods are well-balanced between sophisticated ecological niche models of 100 over species and trade-off analyses in a multi-criteria framework using the Zonation software.

The result is that the resulting protected area network is very different to the one that would be obtained using biodiversity considerations alone.

Overall a paper worth reading and pondering about.

My favourite paper of the week is… “The global distribution and burden of dengue”

Samir Bhatt, Peter W. Gething, Oliver J. Brady, Jane P. Messina, Andrew W. Farlow, Catherine L. Moyes, John M. Drake, John S. Brownstein, Anne G. Hoen, Osman Sankoh, Monica F. Myers, Dylan B. George, Thomas Jaenisch, G. R. William Wint, Cameron P. Simmons, Thomas W. Scott, Jeremy J. Farrar & Simon I. Hay (2013) The global distribution and burden of dengue. Nature 496: 504-507. article.

I chose this paper mainly for two reasons: (1) having global maps of dengue incidence represents a tremendous help for all those working on dengue research and policy makers, it also helps to open our eyes to how serious the problem is (~3 times more infections than those estimated by WHO!); (2) the beauty of the methods that are required to produce global estimates of such an elusive disease when it comes to reporting.

I enjoyed the integration of dengue reporting in the boosted regression tree with spatial covariates like vegetation, urban areas and accessibility. But the most interesting bit is how the spatial distribution is combined with multiple cohort datasets to, using MCMC, create a global map of dengue burden.

This is a great advancement for dengue disease burden estimation that paves the way for an update of economic burden of dengue worldwide. This may suppose the definite push for new technologies for dengue control (e.g. RIDL, Wolbachia) which are waiting for the last policy nod.

As a negative note, if any, is that I could not find the estimated global maps available as shapefiles or raster files in the supplementary information of the publication. I hope these are made available upon request to the authors? Having the files available in the Nature website would be a great help to many of us, I really hope journals implement a stronger policy for straight data sharing.

Anyway, this is a terrific paper and my favourite one for the week. I highly recommend reading it (even the supplementary information!).


My favourite paper of the week is… (section starts)

During the week I try to keep up with the new publications. I tend to find a few gem articles that I read avidly. I thought this could be a good venue to share those articles that struck me for their originality. I will try to keep this section weekly but can’t promise it will happen super regularly.

The articles I am likely to refer to will range from conservation, ecological economics and public health.

Agricultural intensification escalates future conservation costs

Phelps J, Carrasco LR, Webb EL, Koh LP, Pascual U (2013) Agricultural intensification escalates future conservation costs. Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences. doi:10.1073/pnas.1220070110



The supposition that agricultural intensification results in land sparing for conservation has become central to policy formulations across the tropics. However, underlying assumptions remain uncertain and have been little explored in the context of conservation incentive schemes such as policies for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, conservation, sustainable management, and enhancement of carbon stocks (REDD+). Incipient REDD+ forest carbon policies in a number of countries propose agricultural intensification measures to replace extensive “slash-and-burn” farming systems. These may result in conservation in some contexts, but will also increase future agricultural land rents as productivity increases, creating new incentives for agricultural expansion and deforestation. While robust governance can help to ensure land sparing, we propose that conservation incentives will also have to increase over time, tracking future agricultural land rents, which might lead to runaway conservation                              costs. We present a conceptual framework that depicts these relationships, supported by an illustrative model of the intensification of key crops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a leading REDD+ country. A von Thünen land rent model is combined with geographic information systems mapping to demonstrate how agricultural intensification could influence future conservation costs. Once postintensification agricultural land rents are considered, the cost of reducing forest sector emissions could significantly exceed current and projected carbon credit prices. Our analysis highlights the importance of considering escalating conservation costs from agricultural intensification when designing conservation initiatives.


Swidden, slash and burn, land use change, payment for ecosystem services, biodiversity