My doctoral research explores the fundamental dilemma of the planet's humid tropical ecosystems on how to reconcile agricultural production, biodiversity conservation, and human well-being. Tropical agricultural frontiers are changing rapidly and present unique opportunities to reconcile the provision of ecosystem services, the conservation of biological diversity, and the maintenance of the livelihoods of rural communities.
To understand the socio-ecological dynamics and advance the spatial planning of these borders, we focus on the valuation of ecosystem services and biodiversity from a socio-cultural and biophysical approach at regional and ejido scales in the Marqués de Comillas region. To analyse the socio-cultural dimension, we use a combination of visual, hierarchical, spatial, narrative, and analytical tools to map preferences and perceptions of ecosystem services and biodiversity.
We found two bundles at a regional scale: the natural reserve and the agricultural frontier of Marqués de Comillas, two bundles at an ejido scale, ejidos that arise from agriculture, and those arising from both biodiversity conservation and agriculture. We also found that the largest ejidos were characterised by their focus on agriculture, the ejidos that received payments for environmental services were focused on forest conservation, and the more isolated ejidos were home to marginalized local inhabitants.
Inhabitants' main motivations for preferences for ecosystem services and biodiversity were associated with support for local livelihoods. Biophysical factors and historical government policies have played a crucial role in the management and configuration of agricultural frontiers until now. Our results indicate that it is essential to include the desires and needs of the communities as opportunities in the development of effective conservation schemes and sustainable management strategies in Marqués de Comillas and the rest of the tropics.