Land use and land cover change in a tropical mountain landscape of northern Ecuador: Altitudinal patterns and driving forces

Paulina Guarderas, Franz Smith, Marc Dufrene

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Tropical mountain ecosystems are threatened by land use pressures, compromising their capacity to provide ecosystem services. Although local patterns and interactions among anthropogenic and biophysical factors shape these socio-ecological systems, the analysis of landscape changes and their driving forces is often qualitative and sector oriented. Using the Driver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) framework, we characterized land use land cover (LULC) dynamics using Markov chain probabilities by elevation and geographic settings and then integrated them with a variety of publicly available geospatial and temporal data into a Generalized Additive Model (GAM) to evaluate factors driving such landscape dynamics in a sensitive region of the northern Ecuadorian Andes. In previous agricultural land located at lower elevations to the east of the studied territory, we found a significant expansion of floriculture (13 times) and urban areas (25 times), reaching together almost 10% of the territory from 1990 to 2014. Our findings also revealed an unexpected trend of páramo stability (0.75–0.90), but also a 40% reduction of montane forests, with the lowest probability (<0.50) of persistence in the elevation band of 2800–3300 m; agricultural land is replacing this LULC classes at higher elevation. These trends highlight the increasing threat of permanently losing the already vulnerable native mountain biodiversity. GAMs of socio-economic factors, demographic, infrastructure variables, and environmental parameters explained between 21 to 42% of the variation of LULC transitions observed in the study region, where topographic factors was the main drivers of change. The conceptual and methodological approach of our findings demonstrate how dynamic patterns through space and time and their explanatory drivers can assist local authorities and decision makers to improve sustainable resource land management in vulnerable landscapes such as the tropical Andes in northern Ecuador.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0260191
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7 July
StatePublished - Jul 2022


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