When I was a kid I had a dream. I wanted to buy the entire Amazon, so I could preserve it. Time passed by and my dream did not come true. Neither was I able to buy the Amazon nor was it entirely preserved. On the contrary, I decided to pursue an academic career, and the money necessary to pay for that enormous region went to other hands. But I kept my interest in understanding the region and its paradoxes. As a researcher at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), I had numerous opportunities to visit and study the Amazon, delimiting the first Extractive Reserve decreed in the region (Alto Juruá, Acre), participating in the Land Zoning of the State of Tocantins, studying the ecological and spatial dynamics of grasshopper populations in Mato Grosso, and following the trajectory of production systems in northeastern Rondônia. More recently, at the Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change, ACT-Indiana University, I had the opportunity to work with other Amazonian sites, particularly Tome Açu and Bragantina, both in Pará State.
This trajectory came along after a master thesis about the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, a set of islands totaling 20 km2 in northeastern Brazil. In that work, I used aerial photos, field surveys, GIS, and ecological cartography to characterize the area in terms of its biophysical aspects as well as alterations in ecological systems produced during its history of occupation. The Archipelago has since become a National Park, and the results of my work have been used to subsidize management plans within the islands.
During my thesis research, I was already working at EMBRAPA and involved with the projects mentioned above. From the small islands of Fernando de Noronha to the huge areas of Amazônia, my attention was always related to the spatial heterogeneity of landscapes, particularly when altered by human action. Moreover, I became very attracted to the importance of comparative studies and their application to policy making and development plans.
When I first met Professor Emilio Moran in 1996, he was teaching a course on human ecology at the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE). By that time, I already had a dissertation project in mind, focused on comparative analysis of landscapes in Amazônia. Early discussions with him brought to surface the importance of maintaining control over some variables during a comparative research while searching for significant differences among the cases being compared. The settlements of Machadinho d'Oeste and Vale do Anari in the State of Rondônia were then selected for the study. They are adjacent to each other and about the same age, and have similar biophysical features within their landscapes and similar assets among colonists. However, the role of their different architectural and institutional designs in producing distinct land-use/land-cover outcomes and changes in landscape structure were as yet unveiled.
By the beginning of 1997, I was granted with a scholarship by CAPES (Program for the Advancement of Education) and approved for the doctoral program at Indiana University. The coursework as well as the research experience at ACT allowed me to integrate GIS, remote sensing, and spatial and landscape structure analysis to address the questions proposed by this dissertation. Moreover, institutional analysis on the human dimensions of landscape change provided complementary understanding of the colonization processes within the study area. Of course, none of these tasks would have been possible without fieldwork, when gathering data was not just a part of the project, but an enlightening experience.
Even though I cannot realize my earlier dreams, I hope this dissertation contributes an impartial debate for the sake of the dreams of the Amazonian people.