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Interactions between payments for hydrologic services, landowner decisions, and ecohydrological consequences: synergies and disconnection in the cloud forest zone of central Veracruz, Mexico

Heidi Asbjornsen, University of New Hampshire
Robert H Manson, Instituto de Ecología, A.C.
Jason J Scullion, McDaniel College
Friso Holwerda, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Center for Atmospheric Sciences
Lyssette E. Muñoz-Villers, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Center for Atmospheric Sciences
M. Susana Alvarado-Barrientos, CONACYT - El Colegio de la Frontera Sur
Daniel Geissert, Instituto de Ecología, A.C.
Todd E. Dawson, University of California-Berkeley, Departments of Integrative Biology and Environmental Science, Policy & Management
Jeffrey J. McDonnell, University of Saskatchewan, Global Institute for Water Security, Saskatoon, Canada
L. Adrian Bruijnzeel, King's College London, Department of Geography, London, UK


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Payments for Hydrologic Services (PHS) programs are increasingly used as a policy tool to provide incentives for upstream landowners to
adopt land use activities that favor sustainable provision of high-quality water to downstream areas. However, the effectiveness of PHS
programs in achieving their objectives and the potential for unintended (often undesirable) consequences remain poorly understood.
We integrate results from ecohydrological and socioeconomic research to explore the impact of Mexico’s PHS program on the target
hydrologic services and people’s decisions, behavior, and knowledge regarding forest conservation and water. Using central Veracruz as our case study, we identify areas of both synchrony and disconnection between PHS goals and outcomes. Mature and regenerating cloud forests (targeted by PHS) were found to produce enhanced hydrologic services relative to areas converted to pasture, including reduced peak flows during large rain events and maintenance of dry-season base flows. However, unexpectedly, these hydrologic benefits from cloud forests were not necessarily greater than those from other vegetation types. Consequently, the location of forests in strategic watershed positions (e.g., where deforestation risk or hydrologic recharge are high) may be more critical than forest type in promoting hydrologic functions within watersheds and should be considered when targeting PHS payments. While our results suggest that participation in PHS improved the level of knowledge among watershed inhabitants about forest–water relationships, a mismatch existed between payment amounts and landowner opportunity costs, which may contribute to the modest success in targeting priority areas within watersheds. Combined, these findings underscore the complexity of factors that influence motivations for PHS participation and land use decisions and behavior, and the importance of integrating understanding of both ecohydrological and socioeconomic dynamics into PHS design and implementation. We conclude by identifying opportunities for improving the design of PHS programs and recommending priority areas for future research and monitoring, both in Mexico and globally.

Key words

deforestation; interdisciplinary research; payments for ecosystem services; tropical montane cloud forests; watershed management and sustainability

Copyright © 2017 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