Land-use transitions in Andean highlands : ecological and socioeconomic perspectives on landscape restoration

Date

2022-07-01

Authors

Duchicela, Sisimac Alli

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Abstract

Land-use transitions (LUT) refer to the structural change of one land-use system to another. A change in land-use can alter major ecosystem components resulting in ecosystem consequences that can be predicted using ecological theories and methods. However, ecological knowledge is often not integrated into land-use transition models. In this study I aimed to integrate ecological knowledge to measure the consequences of LUTs on ecosystems—focusing on ecological restoration (ER) as a model for a LUT that is driven mainly by endogenic forces. To do this, I investigated the potential vegetation baselines under climate change scenarios by installing open-top chambers in Pichincha, Ecuador to passively increase the temperature of alpine vegetation (4,200 m asl) about 1-2° C. I evaluated changes in biodiversity, functional diversity, and biomass over a seven-year period. Results showed that small temperature increases over time homogenize the vegetation community and favor growth forms with broad thermal niches. Next, I explored ecological restoration indicators by analyzing the results of a large-scale restoration project in a pastoralist system in the Peruvian Andes that analyzed diversity, biomass, vegetation cover and soil organic matter. Areas excluded from alpacas increased vegetation cover and, when irrigation was added, had a faster rate of recovery. Then, I studied the difference in goal setting and project design between human and environmentally driven values. I used two indicators—biodiversity and biomass—from the Huancavelica, Peru study and traced their progress for four years. Excluded plots, when compared to non-excluded plots showed low diversity—suggesting an unsuccessful ER—but higher biomass—suggesting a successful ER by pasture management standards. Hence, ER goals may result in different assessments of the intervention. Finally, I studied the motivations and benefits of ER in social-ecological systems by exploring five farms in montane forest landscapes in northwestern Ecuador. While perceived change in the system was a main motivator for groups to engage in ER, the perceived benefits provided continuity in the projects. With these studies, I used ecological theories and methods to determine the ecosystem consequences of ER and set a precedent for projects aiming to promote adaptation to global environmental change.

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