Towards multifunctional landscapes in tropical deforestation frontiers (financed by NWO-VENI):
Most of the world’s remaining tropical forests are degraded forests located inside human-modified landscapes (HMLs). HMLs consist of a mosaic of land-uses and are dynamic, especially when recently colonized. Little is known about how HMLs evolve and under what conditions forests can persist and contribute to the maintenance of multiple landscape functions and services. This seriously hampers land-use planning, resulting in a rapid loss of natural habitat, biodiversity and landscape functions.
I will study a humid tropical region in Chiapas, Mexico. This region (~1000 km2) was recently colonized by 38 agricultural settler communities and exhibits a high diversity of landscape configurations. Communities migrated from wide range of locations, and thereby represent a high diversity of sociocultural backgrounds and variation in local ecological knowledge. This, together with community characteristics (e.g. population density), biophysical characteristics and external influences, is expected to have shaped land-use decisions, landscape configurations and landscape functions. I will unravel the main social-ecological drivers of forest landscape changes, focusing on changes in forest quantity, forest quality and spatial pattern, and its consequences for landscape multifunctionality. I will combine participatory methods with a modelling approach to explore new landscape configurations in which negative trade-offs between important landscape functions are minimized.
The challenges faced in the study region are widespread (trade-offs between conservation and agricultural production and changing landscape governance) which makes the research outcomes relevant across the humid tropics. The high diversity of landscape configurations allows unravelling the main social-ecological drivers of landscape changes and their consequences for globally and locally relevant functions and services. Insights into the drivers of landscape change are essential for understanding the trade-offs and synergies between land-uses and their functions. Balancing and minimizing negative trade-offs is an essential step towards reconciling local actor needs and global conservation goals.