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Applying Retrospective Demographic Models to Assess Sustainable Use: the Maya Management of Xa’an Palms

Andrea Martínez-Ballesté, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
Carlos Martorell, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
Miguel Martínez-Ramos, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
Javier Caballero, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.


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Xa’an palm (Sabal yapa) has been used to thatch traditional Maya houses for over 3000 years. In the Yucatan Peninsula, this palm has been introduced to pasturelands, maize fields (milpas), and homegardens. These and other traditional management systems are usually believed to be sustainable, but there is as yet little evidence to support this hypothesis. Demographic models have been used for this purpose, mainly focusing on population growth rate (λ). So far, retrospective analysis has not been applied, even though it examines how changes in the the life cycle of a species, caused by different management regimes, affect its λ. In this study, we assess whether ecologically sustainable use of xa’an occurs in homegardens, pasturelands, and milpas, and if so, how it is achieved. We constructed matrix population models for four populations of xa’an that were followed for 3 years, and then conducted a retrospective analysis on them. Management in homegardens seems to be oriented to increasing the availability of xa’an leaves, favoring the survival of seedlings, and increasing the density of harvestable-sized palms. However, in the milpa and the pastureland, the population size structure resembles that of unmanaged populations. Our λ values suggest that the traditional use of xa’an in all the studied management regimes is sustainable. Nevertheless, the processes that lead to sustainable use are different in each system, as shown by our retrospective analysis. Although fecundity contributes positively to λ only in homegardens, permanence and growth maintain palm populations at an equilibrium in the pastureland and in the milpa, respectively. Between-year climatic differences had a smaller impact on λ than management practices, which may vary from one year to another, leading to different balances in the sustainable use of the populations involved. Even though no significant differences were found in λ values, Maya achieve sustainable use of xa’an palm under diverse scenarios by managing the great plasticity of the species, as was revealed by the retrospective analysis. Hence, this approach proved to be effective, not only for assessing sustainable use, but also for understanding the factors that favor or limit it.

Key words

Ethnoecology; LTRE; Mexico; NTFP; Sabal yapa; traditional management; xa’an palm; Yucatan.

Copyright © 2005 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087