A tropical mosaic of land-uses for ecosystem services

In Latin America, cattle ranching is often practiced in tropical areas rich in cultural and biological diversity, creating a dynamic mosaic of forest patches and agricultural fields intermixed throughout the landscape.

La Sepultura Biosphere Reserve, located in the sub-humid mountains of southern Mexico, is such a human-modified landscape where varied ecological and social factors shape these tropical rangelands and their provision of ecosystem services. Plant –functional– diversity and landscape configuration play a role in the ecosystem processes and properties that underpin ecosystem services. Concurrently, farmers with different livelihood strategies and other stakeholders in the protected area have different priorities and needs of land use, as well as diverse perceptions and values for ecosystem services. Thus, actor strategies incur in trade-offs and synergies in the delivery of these services. This entails a key challenge facing tropical landscapes, namely to reconcile biodiversity conservation and extensive agricultural productivity, particularly in the context of local food security and without further encroachment into remaining natural ecosystems.

This study will bring in diverse and complementary approaches to address this issue, ranging from plant inventories and functional trait-based approaches, to farm and land-use management characterisation and social valuation of ecosystem services. These perspectives integrate natural and human aspects at different scales, and seek to reveal the social-ecological dynamics of these tropical rangelands and their provision of ecosystem services to multiple beneficiaries. 

The proposed research project is part of a larger multi-annual, multisite research program titled “Nature’s benefits in agro-forest frontiers: linking actor strategies, functional biodiversity and ecosystem services” (FOREFRONT). The program focusses on the dynamic agricultural and forest frontier landscape in tropical areas, and seeks to link actor strategies of land-use and landscape transformations with the provision of multiple ecosystem services. Consistent to the program, the general aim of this study is to reveal the ecological and social factors that shape tropical rangelands and their provision of ecosystem services to multiple beneficiaries. Two objectives follow: First, to understand how present ecosystem services and the ecosystem properties and processes underlying them, depend on plant (functional) biodiversity and landscape configurations; second, how trade-offs and/or synergies between ecosystem services, vary across rangelands and among varied farmers and actors.