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Ecosystem service trade-offs, perceived drivers, and sustainability in contrasting agroecosystems in central Mexico

Carlos E. González-Esquivel, Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Mayra E. Gavito, Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Marta Astier, Centro de Investigaciones en Geografía Ambiental, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Martin Cadena-Salgado, Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Ek del-Val, Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Laura Villamil-Echeverri, Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Yair Merlín-Uribe, Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Patricia Balvanera, Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-06875-200138

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Abstract

The ability of agroecosystems to provide food ultimately depends on the regulating and supporting ecosystem services that underpin their functioning, such as the regulation of soil quality, water quality, soil erosion, pests, and pollinators. However, there are trade-offs between provisioning and regulating or supporting services, whose nature at the farm and plot scales is poorly understood. We analyzed data at the farm level for two agroecosystems with contrasting objectives in central Mexico: one aimed at staple crop production for self-subsistence and local markets, the other directed to a cash crop for export markets. Bivariate and multivariate trade-offs were analyzed for different crop management strategies (conventional, organic, traditional, crop rotation) and their underpinning socioeconomic drivers. There was a clear trade-off between crop yield and soil quality in self-subsistence systems. However, other expected trade-offs between yields and soil quality did not always occur, likely because of the overall good soils of the region and the low to medium input profile of most farms. Trade-offs were highly dependent on farm-specific agricultural practices; organic, traditional, and rotation management systems generally showed smaller trade-offs between yield and soil quality, pest control, and biodiversity than did conventional management systems. Perceived drivers reported by farmers included increasing prices for cash crops, rising costs of inputs, and extreme climatic events (e.g., drought, hail, frost). Farmers did not identify the regulation of soil quality, water quality, soil erosion, pests, or pollinators as important constraints. Although acceptable yields could be maintained irrespective of key regulating and supporting services according to these perceptions, current levels of soil erosion and nutrient runoff are likely to have important negative effects at the watershed scale. Sustainability in both agroecosystems could be increased substantially by promoting alternative practices aimed at maintaining biodiversity, soil quality, and soil retention.

Key words

agroecosystems; avocado; ecosystem services; maize; Mexico; trade-offs

Copyright © 2015 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.

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