The ecosystem services (ES) concept has brought together research on ecosystems, biodiversity and human well-being, but critical challenges remain to make ES operational. ES assessments are relevant tools in multi-purpose landscapes, such as agricultural landscapes situated within natural protected areas where the challenge is to meet both local livelihoods and conservations goals. La Sepultura Biosphere Reserve in south-eastern Mexico has evidenced tensions among social actors due to territorial disputes; local farmers and conservation institutions contest the landscape’s land use and ES benefits.
We conducted an empirical study in the territory of a small mountain community within this biosphere reserve. We assessed ES in alternative land use scenarios with the aim to generate knowledge in support of local land use and management decisions.
We first characterised local land use using mixed methods research and quantified six locally relevant ES: Livelihood ES valued by farmers including forage production, firewood stocks, and resin production, and ES valued by conservation institutions including tree cover, riparian corridor, and tree diversity. Next, four alternative land use scenarios were built based on expert knowledge and stakeholder participation, with a different balance and integration of production and conservation objectives. We then estimated these ES in the four scenarios and assessed ES trade-offs at the farm and landscape level.
We found that farm diversity mattered. Though farms presented similar trade-offs in each of the scenarios, the magnitude of these trade-offs varied considerably among small vs. large farms. At the landscape level, the intensive cattle ranching and forest restoration scenarios presented hard trade-offs, compared to the more moderate integrated agroforestry practices scenario. Moreover, the land use zoning scenario, a management strategy promoted by conservation institutions, did not differ from the current landscape nor offer an improvement in conservation indicators. Livestock played a key role in the land system, and trade-offs between forage production and other ES were recurrent across scenarios and spatial scales. Still, management practices that harness biodiversity and ES can improve sustainability of cattle ranching, and thus reconcile production and conservation goals.
Relevant ES assessments in agricultural landscapes support local land management decisions, integrate the social–ecological context, and scale up land use scenarios from the farm (fine scale) to the landscape level.