Rural Emigration

Rural Emigration and Agricultural Abandonment: Implications for Wildlife

Worldwide, people are on the move, seeking new economic opportunities in cities and leaving rural areas. This has drastically changed not only rural communities, but also the nature and geographic distribution of agriculture as well. Although agriculture continues to grow globally, some areas have experienced declines in the amount of land devoted to croplands and pastures. In particular, the process of rural emigration has contributed to the phenomenon of agricultural abandonment, in which lands are left uncultivated as the relative economic attractiveness of farming declines. These changes to the economic calculus of farming may be due to direct declines in agricultural viability (whether from soil degradation, water scarcity, climate change, political upheaval, or subsidy removal) or the creation of more attractive economic opportunities elsewhere, especially in growing cities. Climate change, increasing urbanization, economic development, and demographic changes are only likely to accelerate this trend of agricultural abandonment.

In addition to the obvious implications for human food security, the abandonment of marginal agricultural lands will significantly affect biodiversity. Our researchers are trying to understand how these trends of agricultural abandonment will likely affect wildlife and the distributions of habitats that species rely on. Will abandoned farms create new sources of habitat for wildlife as natural regeneration takes place, or will human and ecological obstacles (e.g., takeover of abandoned farmlands by large agricultural corporations; failure of native vegetation to grow on abandoned farmlands due to climate change) prevent this land from regenerating? What land-use trajectories do abandoned lands typically follow, and what are the consequences for biodiversity? What species are likely to gain habitats and potentially increase in abundance, which are likely to decline, and importantly, what will these transitions mean for threatened species? Finally, what sorts of policies might be most effective for managing the process of agricultural abandonment, so as to benefit both people and wildlife? In answering these questions, our researchers intend to help conservation scientists and policy makers understand the challenges and opportunities presented by anticipated future patterns of agricultural land abandonment.

Researcher: Chris Crawford

Trade and Consumption of Freshwater Turtles in the Urban Areas of the Brazilian Amazon

Across the globe, people are increasingly moving out of rural areas and into urban areas to improve their access to resources and financial opportunity. Our researchers are investigating what this mass migration may mean for biodiversity, particularly looking at how rural-to-urban migration influences the consumption of wild meat (i.e. meat from wild animals, sometimes called bushmeat). Current research focuses on endangered freshwater turtles in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, where urban consumption rates total more than 2 million turtles per year. Our results so far show that rural-to-urban migrants consume more turtles than non-migrants do, and that consumption decreases with the size of the city. Our researchers work closely with local decision-makers to inform public policy related to conservation of freshwater turtles.

Researcher: Willandia Chaves