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Beyond the blame game: a restoration pathway reconciles ecologists’ and local leaders’ divergent models of seasonally dry tropical forest degradation

Andrea K. Jara-Guerrero, Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja, Ecuador
Diana Maldonado-Riofrío, Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja, Ecuador
Carlos I. Espinosa, Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja, Ecuador
David H. Duncan, School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne, Australia


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An understanding of ecosystem dynamics under different scenarios of degradation is required to reverse ecological degradation and identify restoration priorities. Such knowledge can be the result of scientific investigation, but important insight can also reside in observant local land managers. In seasonally dry tropical forests in southern Ecuador, recent decades have seen important advances in the knowledge of the biodiversity values of these forests, but the available data have not yet been integrated and translated into tools that support managers in deciding restoration measures. One powerful framework to organize and communicate information about ecosystem degradation and recovery dynamics is the state-transition model. We generated such a model by combining ecologist and local knowledge obtained through an adaptation of the Stanford/SRI expert elicitation protocol. Through this information, we identified five forest states with specific attributes of vegetation, human pressures, and restoration needs. Ecologists and locals agreed on the restoration actions but partially disagreed on the causes of degradation. Whereas ecologists considered that grazing management, often introduced with or after logging, was the catalyst for a transition to degraded states, locals attributed those transitions to the effects of logging alone. Importantly, however, both ecologists and locals considered that exclusion of livestock grazing was a necessary action to promote ecological recovery. A forward-looking strategy focusing on objectives for ecosystem recovery and ecosystem management for biodiversity and human well-being might be more successful than strategies that emphasize or seek to attribute responsibility for degradation.

Key words

conservation status; desertification; dry forest; drylands; forest management; state-transition model

Copyright © 2019 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