, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 731-744
Date: 21 Feb 2012

The effect of land use change and ecotourism on biodiversity: a case study of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, from 1985 to 2008

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Development in biodiversity rich areas is of global concern. While development may lead to socioeconomic benefits, this often comes concomitant with biodiversity loss and deforestation. Biodiversity rich areas present the opportunity for both improvements in socioeconomic conditions and conservation; however numerous challenges exist. Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park presents an ideal case study to investigate the balance between alternative forms of development which have contrasting environmental impacts. The Manuel Antonio region is a highly dynamic landscape experiencing deforestation, from agriculture, cattle ranching and oil palm plantations; and also reforestation from abandonment of land holdings and nature oriented tourism. Landscape dynamics are closely intertwined with the livelihoods and perspectives on biodiversity conservation of local communities, determining ecological sustainability. We use an analysis combining multi-temporal remote sensing of land cover dynamics from 1985 to 2008 with questionnaire data from local families on their socioeconomic status, perspectives on conservation, and perceived changes in local wildlife populations. Our results show that, while regeneration occurred and forest fragmentation in the area decreased from 1985 to 2008, Manuel Antonio National Park is rapidly becoming isolated. Decreasing ecological connectivity is related to the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations adjacent to the park and throughout the lowland areas. Perceived decreases in wildlife abundance and compositional change are evident throughout the area, with local communities attributing this primarily to illegal hunting activities. Nature based tourism in the area presents an effective strategy for conservation, including reductions in hunting, through increased valuation of biodiversity and protected areas, and socioeconomic advantages. However, without urgent efforts to limit deforestation and preserve the remaining forested corridor connecting the park to core primary forest, the ability to maintain biodiversity in the park will be reduced.