Agroecosystems For Communities And Conservation: Linking Bird Conservation And Sustainable Livelihoods In The Highlands Of Guatemala

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As the world's natural habitats continue to be converted for human use, integrating biodiversity conservation within the activities that support sustainable development is vital, yet increasingly challenging in regions where high levels of poverty and biodiversity converge. Conservation of tropical forests, therefore, depends upon effectively managing agroecosystems to support rural livelihoods, food security, and wildlife. A land use approach that integrates diverse agroecosystems with natural habitats is one strategy to achieve multiple human and environmental targets, but its success depends upon identification of agricultural practices that are biodiversityfriendly. Our research asked three main questions: 1) In what ways can tropical agroecosystems support bird conservation? 2) Which agricultural practices best support sustainable livelihoods in rural communities? 3) Which agroecosystem characteristics most align with the shared goals of promoting healthy human communities and conserving biodiversity? From June 2014 to February 2015, we used a mixed-methods approach to address our questions within three remote villages in the Central Highlands in the Department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, an area globally recognized for its biocultural diversity. We measured occupancy of 15 focal bird species, vegetation characteristics, and landscape context at 142 points located in six agroecosystems types (i.e. monoculture, polyculture, semi-shade coffee, pine plantation, secondary forest, and primary cloud forest). We also surveyed 42 farmer households to assess crop diversity, dietary diversity, agrochemical use practices and income generated from crop sales. Our work shows that conservation and sustainable livelihoods were best supported by diverse agroecosystems that retained cloud forest remnants within the matrix. Structural and floristic diversity of agroecosystems were positively associated with focal bird species as well as diversified diets and on-farm incomes for farmers. For birds of conservation concern, the value of agroecosystems can be improved by retaining >20% canopy cover on farms and >60% in forest 3 habitats, maintaining 150-550 trees/ha, protecting epiphytes, and managing landscapes for 25-40% forest within the matrix. Efforts to plant trees, especially fruit trees, and culturally significant heirloom crops, are thus likely to restore or enhance avian habitat within the agricultural matrix. Diverse agroecosystems with remnant forests also supported farmers and their families within rural Q'eqchi' communities. In particular, crop diversity was positively associated to dietary diversity, an indicator of nutritional status, such that one additional food group was consumed within a household for each 5 crops added. On-farm income sources also diversified with crop variety, given that the average household sold approximately one-third of their total crop diversity. Specific types of heirloom and fruit crops (e.g., roctixl, macuy, ch'onte', guisquil, taro, chilacayote, pacaya palm, peach, plum, avocado, passionfruit) were especially likely to result in positive social and environmental outcomes. In contrast, other crops (e.g., export broccoli, cash crops) were more lucrative, but required expensive and potentially harmful agrochemicals. Collectively, these findings were used to inform management through an agroecological enrichment project with local partners that reintroduced heirloom crops and planted fruit trees in 18 remote communities, and engaged over 15 stakeholder groups in participatory discussions about conservation and development within the greater Highlands of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Overall, identifying and advocating for biodiversity-friendly agroecosystems is likely to contribute to bird conservation and sustainable livelihoods in the Highlands of Guatemala. More information about this project can be found at 4

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wildlife conservation; Mayan; agriculture


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Union Local


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Rodewald,Amanda Dumin

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Gomez,Miguel I.
Inigo-Elias,Eduardo E.

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Natural Resources

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M.S., Natural Resources

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Master of Science

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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