Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 20, Issue 12, pp 2597–2613 | Cite as

Examining complexities of forest cover change during armed conflict on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast

  • Kara Stevens
  • Lindsay Campbell
  • Gerald Urquhart
  • Dan Kramer
  • Jiaguo Qi
Original Paper


The effects of armed conflict on biodiversity are an emerging concern in conservation due in part to the occurrence of war in biodiversity hotspots, though few studies have addressed it. We investigate this topic by examining changes in forest cover on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua from 1978 to 1993, a period covering their civil war. We predict an increase in forest cover between pre- and post-conflict periods as residents abandoned agriculture plots and migrated from conflict areas. We used a remote sensing approach to detect changes in forest cover area and fragmentation at two study sites. Results confirmed that in the first 5–7 years of the conflict, reforestation was greater than deforestation, but in the latter years of the conflict deforested land almost doubled that which was reforested. Although some forest loss was due to Category 4 Hurricane Joan, several conflict-related factors were partially responsible for these results, such as mass human migration and land reform. Understanding how and why forest cover changes during periods of conflict can help conservationists protect resources both during war and in the tumultuous period following the cessation of violence when nascent governments lack the power to effectively govern and community institutions are fractured by war. In areas where the livelihoods of people are directly dependent on local resources, anticipating ecological and social impacts can help improve future conservation efforts.


Conflict Deforestation Land-cover change Nicaragua War 



Aggregation index


Class area


Sandinista National Liberation Front


Multispectral scanner


Near infra-red


Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region


Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region


Root mean square


Thematic mapper


Universal transverse mercator



We would like to thank the Center for Global Change and Earth Observation at Michigan State University and the National Science Foundation (CNH-0815966) for their support in conducting this research. We also thank Olivia Courant for background and field research that contributed to the development of the paper. An anonymous reviewer gave valuable comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kara Stevens
    • 1
  • Lindsay Campbell
    • 2
  • Gerald Urquhart
    • 1
    • 3
  • Dan Kramer
    • 1
    • 4
  • Jiaguo Qi
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Fisheries and WildlifeMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Center for Global Change and Earth ObservationMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.Lyman Briggs CollegeMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  4. 4.James Madison CollegeMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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