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Ecosystem Service Trade-Offs, Perceived Drivers, and Sustainability in Contrasting Agroecosystems in Central Mexico

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Type: Journal Article
Author: González-Esquivel, Carlos E.; Gavito, Mayra E.; Astier, Marta; Cadena-Salgado, Martin; del-Val, Ek; Villamil-Echeverri, Laura; Merlín-Uribe, Yair; Balvanera, Patricia
Journal: Ecology and Society
Volume: 20
Date: 2015
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/9790
Sector: Agriculture
Region: Central America & Caribbean
Subject(s): agroecology
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."

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