NCEAS Product 25236

Mora Ardila, Francisco; Balvanera, Patricia; García-Frapolli, Eduardo; Castillo, Alicia; Trilleras, Jenny M; Cohen-Salgado, Daniel; Salmerón, Oscar. 2016. Trade-offs between ecosystem services and alternative pathways toward sustainability in a tropical dry forest region. Ecology and Society. Vol: 21. (Abstract)


The design of strategies aimed at sustainable resource management requires an understanding of the trade-offs between the ecosystem services at stake, to determine appropriate ways in which to navigate them. We assess trade-offs between forage production for cattle ranching and the maintenance of carbon stocks or tree diversity in a Mexican tropical dry forest. Trade-offs between pairs of services were assessed by identifying their efficiency frontiers at both site and landscape scales. We also estimated service outcomes under current and hypothetical land-management conditions. We found stark trade-offs between fodder and carbon stocks and between fodder and tree species richness at the site scale. At the landscape scale, the efficiency frontier was concave, with a much less pronounced trade-off in the fodder-species richness case. Our estimates of current service supply levels showed a reduction of 18-21% for C stock and 41-43% for fodder biomass, relative to the maximum feasible values along the efficiency frontier. Choice of the optimum management strategy to reduce such inefficiency depended on deforestation level: secondary forest regeneration was most suitable when deforestation is low, whereas increased fodder productivity in the pastures is best when deforestation is high. Pasture enrichment with forage trees and secondary forest growth are potential management alternatives for achieving sustainability given the range of enabling ecological factors and to balance ecological and social sustainability given the requirements and preferences of local stakeholders. Given that analogous trade-offs are found across the tropics, this work contributes to reconciling tropical forest maintenance and its use for sustainable rural livelihoods.