Managing water services in tropical regions: From land cover proxies to hydrologic fluxes

Abstract

Watershed investment programs frequently use land cover as a proxy for water-based ecosystem services, an approach based on assumed relationships between land cover and hydrologic outcomes. Water flows are rarely quantified, and unanticipated results are common, suggesting land cover alone is not a reliable proxy for water services. We argue that managing key hydrologic fluxes at the site of intervention is more effective than promoting particular land-cover types. Moving beyond land cover proxies to a focus on hydrologic fluxes requires that programs (1) identify the specific water service of interest and associated hydrologic flux; (2) account for structural and ecological characteristics of the relevant land cover; and, (3) determine key mediators of the target hydrologic flux. Using examples from the tropics, we illustrate how this conceptual framework can clarify interventions with a higher probability of delivering desired water services than with land cover as a proxy.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Leah L. Bremer for insightful comments and suggestions on this manuscript. This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation (to A.G. Ponette-González and K.C. Weathers, OISE #1132444; and to K.R. Young, CNH#1010381 and DEB #1146446), and NASA (L.M. Curran and A.G. Ponette-González, NASA NNX11AF08G, NASA GRFP NX08AY29H). Funding to K.A. Brauman was provided by the UMN Institute on the Environment.

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Correspondence to Alexandra G. Ponette-González.

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Alexandra G. Ponette-González and Kate A. Brauman have contributed equally to this work.

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Ponette-González, A.G., Brauman, K.A., Marín-Spiotta, E. et al. Managing water services in tropical regions: From land cover proxies to hydrologic fluxes. Ambio 44, 367–375 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-014-0578-8

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Keywords

  • Hydrology
  • Land use
  • Payments for watershed services
  • Tropical ecosystems
  • Watershed management