Dr. Robert T. Walker


Walker photo

Dr. Robert T. Walker


Faculty, Center for Latin American Studies (LATAM)


Focus Areas

Areas of Specialization

  • Nature-Society Studies
  • Land Change
  • Geo-spatial Analysis
  • Amazonwalker-landscape

Educational Background

  • PhD in Regional Science, University of Pennsylvania, 1984
  • M.S. in  Environmental Engineering, with specialization in Systems Ecology, University of Florida, 1976
  • B.S. in Chemistry, University of Florida, 1973

Recent Courses

  • Spatial Regression
  • Economic Geography
  • Nature-Society Seminar
  • Human Geography Seminarwalker-car-bridge

Current Graduate Students


Postdoctoral Researchers

  • Yankuic Galvan

Recent Graduate Students

  • Eugenio Arima:  UT Austin
  • Stephen Aldrich:  Indiana State University
  • Marcellus Caldas:  Kansas State University
  • Peter Richards:  Brown University

In My Own Words

During summers in high school, I worked as a mate on a fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico, and it was here that I first looked south, wondering about distant places, about parts of the world different than mine.  This led me to an early career as a backpacker, and a semi-professional ocean racer, seeking out new places, mostly south and east of the continental US.  One trip took me to the island of Barbados, where I attempted to start a commune of revolutionary surfers, but was told by immigration authorities I would not be welcome long.  This failure to contribute to creating a world of earthly delight made me realize an education might help me continue my quests, certainly with respect to providing funds for surf safaris.  But once in school, I discovered that a life of the mind was of greater excitement than one of discovery, lived fitfully in a world that was mostly mapped and known.  Thus, I began my walk down the academic pathway.

I am now a Human Geographer, with a PhD in Regional Science from the University of Pennsylvania, which places me on the quantitative side of the field, with strong training in statistics and economics. Thus, I consider myself a quantitative economic geographer. Having said this, the topical focus of my research agenda has been on land cover change processes, especially tropical deforestation.  My work has taken me away from conventional economic geographic themes, and at this point I could easily be described as a land change scientist, with strong interest in field ethnography. Nevertheless, my commitment to economic geography is strong, and my research always brings a spatial and human geographic focus to bear on processes of environmental change.

My most characteristic work to date integrates remote sensing, spatial statistics, and ethnographic field data into studies of land cover change processes. Since the early 1990s, I have led a number of field activities in the Amazon basin, studying the land use decisions of households, the spatial-processes of road building, and, most recently, the impacts of land reform on tropical forests. In addition to this work, I maintain interests in classical land use theory, as well as spatial statistics. Although I have worked primarily at the household level in the tropical forests of Brazil, I am presently scaling up in order to take a political ecological view of environmental change in Amazônia and elsewhere. With NASA funding, I am modeling land-climate interactions at basin-scale in the Amazon, and with NSF funding I am addressing the globalization of the Amazon’s cattle economy.

Many Human Geographers define themselves as critical social theorists, ala the so-called cultural turn and post-modernism. Critical theory and quantitative methods do not always meet on common theoretical ground, at least as they have traditionally been implemented and practiced. Having said this, I believe that both structural and post-structural approaches have much to offer, to geographers and the social scientists more generally. In this regard, I see myself as an emerging fusionist, someone not averse to combining quantitative approaches with concepts taken from critical social theory.  Recently, for example, I have combined von Thunen with discourse analysis, and remote sensing with political ecology.  I believe that great intellectual opportunity lies along this fusionist path, which I plan to continue following.

I have not returned to Barbados since my early sojourn there.  But I will, soon.

Recent Publications

Richards, P., Walker, R. And Arima, E. 2014. Spatially Complex Land Change: The Indirect Effect of Brazil’s Agricultural Sector on Land Use in Amazonia. Global Environmental Change 29: 1-9

Walker, R. 2014. Saving Land for Nature in the Brazilian Amazon: Implications from Location Rent Theory. Geographical Analysis 46(1): 18-36

Arima, E., Walker, R. and Vergara, D. 2013. Assessing the Performance of Lineal Feature Models: An Approach to Computational Inference. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 79(9): 847-855

Arima, E. and Walker, R. 2013. Spontaneous colonization and Forest Fragmentation in the Central Amazon Basin. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103 (6): 1485-1501

Walker, R., Arima, E., Messina, J., Soares-Filho, B., Perz, S., Sales, M.,Vergara, D., Pereira, R. and Castro, W. 2013. Modelling Spatial Decisions with Graph Theory: Logging Roads and Forest Fragmentation in the Brazilian Amazon. Ecological Applications 23(1): 239-254

Richards, P., Myers, R. J., Swinton, S. M., and Walker. R. 2012. Exchange Rates, Soybean Supply Response, and Deforestation in South America. Global Environmental Change 22: 454-462

Aldrich, S., Walker, R., Simmons, C., Caldas, M., and Perz, S. Contentious Land Change in Amazônia’s Arc of Deforestation. 2012. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 102(1): 103-128

Arima, E., Richards, P., Walker, R. and Caldas, M. M. 2011. Statistical Confirmation of Indirect Land Use Change in the Brazilian Amazon. Environmental Research Letters 6 DOI:10.1088/1748-9326/6/2/024010

Walker, R. 2011. The Impact of Brazilian Biofuel Production on Amazonia. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101(4): 929-938

Leite, F. L., Caldas, M. M., Simmons, C., Perz, S. G., Aldrich, S. and Walker, R. 2011. The Social Viability and Environmental Sustainability of Direct Action Land Reform Settlements in the Amazon. Environment. Development and Sustainability  13(4): 773-788

Walker, R. and Arima, E. A. 2011. Smallholder Timber Sale Decisions along the Transamazon Highway: A comment. Ecological Economics 70(9): 1565-1567

Walker, R. 2011. The Scale of Forest Transition: Amazonia and the Atlantic forests of Brazil. Applied Geography 32(1): 12-20

Perz, S., Simmons, C., Walker, R., Leite, F., Aldrich, S. and Caldas, M. Intraregional Migration, Direct Action Land Reform, and New Land Settlements in the Brazilian Amazon. 2010. Bulletin of Latin American Research 29(4): 459-476

Caldas, M., Simmons, C., Walker, R., Perz, S., Aldrich, S., Pereira, R., Leite, F., and Arima, E. 2010.           Settlement Formation and Land Cover and Land Use Change: A Case Study in the Brazilian Amazon. Journal of Latin American Geography 9(1): 125-144

Simmons, C. S., Walker, R., Perz, S., Aldrich, S., Caldas, M., Pereira, R., Fernandes, C. and Arima, E. 2010. Doing it for Themselves: Direct Action Land Reform in the Brazilian Amazon. World Development 38(3): 429–444

Pfaff, A. and Walker, R. 2010. Regional Interdependence and Forest Transitions: forest loss elsewhere limits local transitions’ global relevance. Land Use Policy 27: 119-129

Walker, R., Moore, N., Arima, E., Perz, S., Simmons, C., Caldas, M., Vergara, D. and Bohrer, C. 2009. Protecting Amazônia with Protected Areas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106(26): 10582–10586

Walker, R., Browder, J., Arima, E., Simmons, C., Pereira, R. Caldas, M., Shirota, R. and Zen, S. 2009. Ranching and the New Global Range: Amazônia in the 21st Century. Geoforum 40(5): 732-745

Recent Research Grants

“Collaborative Research: Territorializing Exploitation Space and the Fragmentation of the Amazon Forest.” (MSU Principal Investigator). $344,258. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, 2008-2011.

“Collaborative Research: Globalization, Deforestation, and the Livestock Sector in the Brazilian Amazon.” Robert Walker (MSU Principal Investigator and Project Leader). $314,976. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, 2006-2009.

“Doctoral Dissertation Research: Soy, Cattle, and the Amazon Forest.” Robert Walker (MSU Principal Investigator) with Peter Richards. $4,800. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, 2010-2012.



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