Forests in Conflict: a comparison of the structures of the socio-ecological networks

Laura Roldan-Gomez


There is a feedback loop between the natural environment and socio-political conflicts. Scarcity and skewed distribution of natural resources often lead to conflict. The escalation of conflict puts pressure on natural resources, which leads to alterations in the ecological system, exacerbating scarcity and distributional grievances over natural resources. The Colombian conflict is a ripe example of such a socio-ecological problem. Evidence suggests that conflict intensity is correlated with cycles of deforestation and recovery of ecosystems. These alterations to the ecological system are a consequence of warlike actions and strategies, such as illicit agriculture and mining, prime causes of deforestation, but also to isolation and displacement, which tend to lead to ecosystem recovery. In this paper, I compare the structure of the ecological network formed by forest cover change in contiguous spatial parcels and the social network emerging from war dynamics. The underlying assumption supporting the treatment of deforestation data as an ecological network is that change in forest cover can be modelled as a contagion process. The social network is formed by the dyadic interactions between fractions of war through warlike actions. The research question I intend to address is how the frequency of dyadic interactions between the actors involved in the conflict and their tendency for reciprocity are interacting with the contagion patterns of deforestation. I hypothesise that the deforestation process spreads in response to the intensity and modality of the conflict. To answer this research question, I analyse the Colombian conflict using deforestation data from 2000 to 2018 sourced from the Global Forest Change Data, and warlike actions data sourced from the Observatory of Memory and Conflict.

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