Reducing agriculture's ecological impacts

By 2050, global food needs are expected to nearly double. Meanwhile, our current agricultural practices are the chief cause of terrestrial biodiversity loss, and one of the major drivers of climate change. If we want to feed ourselves and avoid causing large-scale environmental, and thus socioeconomic, disruptions, we have to figure out how to dramatically lower agriculture’s environmental impacts.

A key part of my research is to identify successful tradeoffs that allow agricultural development objectives to be met for substantially lower ecological cost. It also entails gaining a better understanding of how land use impacts ecosystems, including individual species (such as the mountain bongo antelope, the subject of my PhD research). I currently focus on sub-Saharan Africa, which will likely experience the greatest agricultural expansion in the coming decades, given its rapid growth and large areas of potential agricultural land.

Related Work



    • Estes, L.D., Searchinger, T., Spiegel, M., Tian, D., Sichinga, S., Mwale, M., Kehoe, L., Kuemmerle, T., Berven, A., Chaney. N., Sheffield, J., Wood, E., Caylor, K. Reconciling agriculture, carbon, and biodiversity in a savanna transformation frontier. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 371, 20150316.
    • Searchinger, T., Estes, L.D., Thornton, P., Notenbaert, A., Beringer, T., Rubenstein, D., Heimlich, R., Herrero, M. 2015. Do the wet savannas and shrublands of Africa provide a low carbon and biodiversity cost cropland reserve? Nature Climate Change, 5, 481-486.
    • Estes, L.D., Mwangi, A.G., Reillo, P.R., and Shugart, H.H. 2011. Predictive distribution modeling of a rare antelope using enhanced remote sensing and multiple validation techniques. Animal Conservation, 14, 521-532.
    • Estes, L.D., Okin, G.S., Mwangi, A.G., and Shugart, H.H. (2008). Habitat selection by a rare forest antelope: A multi-scale approach combining field data and imagery from three sensors. Remote Sensing of Environment 112, 2033-2050.