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ESS Ph.D. Dissertation Defense - Elsa Ordway: Commodity Crop Expansion Pathways and Impacts in Tropical Forest Regions of Africa and Asia
This talk comprises the public portion of the PhD dissertation defense from approximately 9:00-10:00 AM.
Department: Earth System Science
Graduate Student: Elsa Ordway
Advisor: Dr. Eric Lambin
Title: Commodity Crop Expansion Pathways and Impacts in Tropical Forest Regions of Africa and Asia
Abstract: Tropical forests are critically important ecosystems that store large amounts of carbon, maintain over half of the planet’s biodiversity, and play key roles in the regulation of global as well as regional climate systems. In recent decades, the changing structure of demand for food and energy commodities has had a remarkable impact on land use in tropical forest regions, resulting in rapid deforestation and degradation. My dissertation seeks to understand the impacts of recent commodity crop expansion on deforestation in sub-Saharan Africa and the effects of large-scale forest conversion on characteristics of remaining forest ecosystems in Southeast Asia. Using a variety of methods including farmer surveys, remote sensing and spatial analysis, and econometrics, I demonstrate that commodity crop expansion in sub-Saharan Africa is increasing pressure on tropical forests, albeit through expansion pathways linked to informal economies quite unlike more comprehensively studied regions in Southeast Asia and South America. Using high-resolution airborne imaging spectroscopy and LiDAR data, I identify long-lasting effects of tropical forest conversion to oil palm plantations on neighboring forest structure and function. Understanding the role of informal economies in commodity crop expansion and the ecological impacts of forest conversion for commodity crop production more broadly is important for the identification of regionally relevant, sustainable land use strategies.