Ecology and Institutions of Conservation in the Southern Yucatán Peninsular Region
This study examines the evolution of landscape-scale forest patterns in the southern
Yucatán peninsular region (SYPR), Mexico, as they are determined by social institutions
controlling forest conservation. The primary research questions ask whether diverse
conservation institutions give rise to different landscape-level patterns, and whether
these patterns have distinct ecosystem and community-level consequences.
The research will compute indices of landscape pattern, such as forest fragmentation
and connectivity, from a remote-sensing derived land-use/cover classification, including
three structural/seral stages of secondary succession and two mature forest categories.
Through semi-structured interviews and archival research, the critical conservation
institutions in the region will be identified, their areas of influence mapped onto the
classified land-use/cover, and analyzed for statistical relationship to degree of forest
fragmentation currently and in the recent past (15 years). By investigating institutional
conservation strategies and implementation plans, the researcher will elicit information
on the subsidization of smallholder agricultural activities that maintain forest cover,
and on explicit mechanisms controlling the area, spatial pattern, and timing of
deforestation. The landscape-institution study will then be grounded, through field
ecological research, in point assessments of local successional forests. Field studies
will stratify successional forest patches by fragmentation index and institutional regime,
and collect detailed data on ecosystem function attributes (carbon and nitrogen stocks,
soil moisture and relative biomass) and community composition (species, structural and
seral stage diversity).
By combining remote sensing, landscape and community ecological methods with
qualitative and empirical social research, the proposed study attempts an
interdisciplinary analysis of institutional regimes in the SYPR as they alter landscape
patterns, nutrient stocks in ecosystems, species diversity, and local sustainability. Key
research and policy contributions of the proposed study pertain to the fields of geography
and land-use/cover change, landscape ecology, carbon cycles and terrestrial ecology,
conservation biology, and ecosystem management.