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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Åkesson, M., C.J. Sparrenbom, P. Dahlqvist, and S.J. Fraser. 2014. On the scope and management of pesticide pollution of Swedish groundwater resources: The Scanian example. AMBIO. doi:10.1007/s13280-014-0548-1.
Balvanera, P., M. Uriarte, L. Almeida-Lenero, A. Altesor, F. DeClerck, T. Gardner, J. Hall, A. Lara, et al. 2012. Ecosystem services research in Latin America: The state of the art. Ecosystem Services 2: 56–70.
Bennett, G., N. Carroll, and K. Hamilton. 2013. Charting new waters: State of watershed payments 2012. Washington, DC: Forest Trends.
Bosch, J.M., and J.D. Hewlett. 1982. A review of catchment experiments to determine the effect of vegetation changes on water yield and evapotranspiration. Journal of Hydrology 55: 3–23.
Brauman, K.A., G.C. Daily, T.K. Duarte, and H.A. Mooney. 2007. The nature and value of ecosystem services: An overview highlighting hydrologic services. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 32: 67–98.
Brauman, K.A., D.L. Freyberg, and G.C. Daily. 2010. Forest structure influences on rainfall partitioning and cloud interception: A comparison of native forest sites in Kona, Hawai’i. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 150: 265–275.
Brauman, K.A., D.L. Freyberg, and G.C. Daily. 2012. Potential evapotranspiration from forest and pasture in the tropics: A case study in Kona, Hawai’i. Journal of Hydrology 440–441: 52–61.
Brown, A.E., L. Zhang, T.A. McMahon, A.W. Western, and R.A. Vertessy. 2005. A review of paired catchment studies for determining changes in water yield resulting from alterations in vegetation. Journal of Hydrology 310: 28–61.
Bury, J., B.G. Mark, M. Carey, K.R. Young, J.M. McKenzie, M. Baraer, A. French, and M.H. Polk. 2013. New geographies of water and climate change in Peru: Coupled natural and social transformations in the Santa River Watershed. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103: 363–374.
Calder, I.R. 2004. Forests and water—Closing the gap between public and science perceptions. Water Science and Technology 49: 39–53.
Carlson, K.M., L.M. Curran, A.G. Ponette-González, D. Ratnasari, Ruzpita, N. Liznawati, Y. Purwanto, K.A. Brauman, and P.A. Raymond. 2014. Watershed–climate interactions influence stream temperature, sediment yield, and metabolism along a land-use intensity gradient in Indonesian Borneo. Journal of Geophysical Research 119: 1110–1128.
Destouni, G., K. Persson, C. Prieto, and J. Jarsjö. 2010. General quantification of catchment-scale nutrient and pollutant transport through the subsurface to surface and coastal waters. Environmental Science and Technology 44: 2048–2055.
Destouni, G., F. Jaramillo, and C. Prieto. 2013. Hydroclimatic shifts driven by human water use for food and energy production. Nature Climate Change 3: 213–217.
Eigenbrod, F., P.R. Armsworth, B.J. Anderson, A. Heinemeyer, S. Gillings, D.B. Roy, C.D. Thomas, and K.J. Gaston. 2010. Error propagation associated with benefits transfer-based mapping of ecosystem services. Biological Conservation 143: 2487–2493.
Engel, S., S. Pagiola, and S. Wunder. 2008. Designing payments for environmental services in theory and practice: An overview of the issues. Ecological Economics 65: 663–674.
Farley, K.A. 2007. Grasslands to tree plantations: Forest transition in the Andes of Ecuador. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 97: 755–771.
Farley, K.A., W.G. Anderson, L.L. Bremer, and C.P. Harden. 2011. Compensation for ecosystem services: An evaluation of efforts to achieve conservation and development in Ecuadorian paramo grasslands. Environmental Conservation 38: 393–405.
Goldman-Benner, R.L., S. Benitez, T. Boucher, A. Calvache, G. Daily, P. Kareiva, T. Kroeger, and A. Ramos. 2012. Water funds and payments for ecosystem services: Practice learns from theory and theory can learn from practice. Oryx 46: 55–63.
Gunston, H. 1998. Field hydrology in tropical countries: A practical introduction. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.
Guswa, A.J., K.A. Brauman, C. Brown, P. Hamel, B.L. Keeler, and S.S. Sayre. 2014. Ecosystem services: Challenges and opportunities for hydrologic modeling to support decision making. Water Resources Research 50: 4535–4544.
Harden, C.P., J. Hartsig, K.A. Farley, J. Lee, and L.L. Bremer. 2013. Effects of land-use change on water in Andean paramo grassland soils. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103: 375–384.
Higgins, J.V., and A. Zimmerling (eds.). 2013. A primer for monitoring water funds. Arlington, VA: The Nature Conservancy.
Jack, B.K., C. Kousky, and K.R.E. Sims. 2008. Designing payments for ecosystem services: Lessons from previous experience with incentive-based mechanisms. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105: 9465–9470.
Jeanes, K., M. van Noordwijk, L. Joshi, A. Widayati Farida, and B. Leimona. 2006. Rapid hydrological appraisal in the context of environmental service rewards. Bogor: World Agroforestry Centre.
Jenny, H. 1941. Factors of soil formation: A system of quantitative pedology. New York: Dover Publications.
Kagawa, A., L. Sack, K. Duarte, and S. James. 2009. Hawaiian native forest conserves water relative to timber plantation: Species and stand traits influence water use. Ecological Applications 19: 1429–1443.
Krishnaswamy, J., M. Bonell, B. Venkatesh, B.K. Purandara, K.N. Rakesh, S. Lele, M.C. Kiran, V. Reddy, et al. 2013. The groundwater recharge response and hydrologic services of tropical humid forest ecosystems to use and reforestation: Support for the “infiltration–evapotranspiration trade-off hypothesis”. Journal of Hydrology 498: 191–209.
LaFevor, M.C. 2014. Restoration of degraded agricultural terraces: Rebuilding landscape structure and process. Journal of Environmental Management 138: 32–42.
Likens, G.E. (ed.). 2010. Biogeochemistry of inland waters. San Diego: Academic Press.
Milly, P.C.D., J. Betancourt, M. Falkenmark, R.M. Hirsch, Z.W. Kundzewicz, D.P. Lettenmaier, and R.J. Stouffer. 2008. Stationarity is dead: Whither water management? Science 319: 573–574.
Muñoz-Piña, C., A. Guevara, J.M. Torres, and J. Braña. 2008. Paying for the hydrological services of Mexico’s forests: Analysis, negotiations and results. Ecological Economics 65: 725–736.
Mwendera, E.J., and M.A.M. Saleem. 1997. Infiltration rates, surface runoff, and soil loss as influenced by grazing pressure in the Ethiopian highlands. Soil Use and Management 13: 29–35.
Nadkarni, N.M., and M.M. Sumera. 2004. Old-growth forest canopy structure and its relationship to throughfall interception. Forest Science 50: 290–298.
Polasky, S., E. Nelson, J. Camm, B. Csuti, P. Fackler, E. Lonsdorf, C. Montgomery, D. White, et al. 2008. Where to put things? Spatial land management to sustain biodiversity and economic returns. Biological Conservation 141: 1505–1524.
Ponette-González, A.G., K.C. Weathers, and L.M. Curran. 2010. Water inputs across a tropical montane landscape in Veracruz, Mexico: Synergistic effects of land cover, rain and fog seasonality, and interannual precipitation variability. Global Change Biology 16: 946–963.
Ponette-González, A.G., E. Marín-Spiotta, K.A. Brauman, K.A. Farley, K.C. Weathers, and K.R. Young. 2014. Hydrologic connectivity in the high-elevation tropics: Heterogeneous responses to land change. BioScience 64: 92–104.
Porras, I., B. Aylward, and J. Dengel. 2013. Monitoring payments for watershed services schemes in developing countries. London: International Institute for Environment and Development.
Putz, F.E., and K.H. Redford. 2010. The importance of defining ‘forest’: Tropical forest degradation, deforestation, long-term phase shifts, and further transitions. Biotropica 42: 10–20.
Quintero, M., S. Wunder, and R.D. Estrada. 2009. For services rendered? Modeling hydrology and livelihoods in Andean payments for environmental services schemes. Forest Ecology and Management 258: 1871–1880.
Ray, D.K., U.S. Nair, R.O. Lawton, R.M. Welch, and R.A. Pielke. 2006. Impact of land use on Costa Rican tropical montane cloud forests: Sensitivity of orographic cloud formation to deforestation in the plains. Journal of Geophysical Research 111: D02108.
Sims, K.R.E., J.M. Alix-Garcia, E. Shapiro-Garza, L.R. Fine, V.C. Radeloff, G. Aronson, S. Castillo, C. Ramirez-Reyes, and P. Yañez-Pagans. 2014. Improving environmental and social targeting through adaptive management in Mexico’s Payments for Hydrological Services Program. Conservation Biology 28: 1151–1159.
Staudt, A., A.K. Leidner, J. Howard, K.A. Brauman, J.S. Dukes, L.J. Hansen, C. Paukert, J. Sabo, et al. 2013. The added complications of climate change: Understanding and managing biodiversity and ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11: 494–501.
The Nature Conservancy. 2014. The Latin American Water Funds Partnership. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/latinamerica/latin-american-water-funds-partnership.xml.
van der Velde, Y., S.W. Lyon, and G. Destouni. 2013. Data-driven regionalization of river discharges and emergent land cover–evapotranspiration relationships across Sweden. Journal of Geophysical Research 118: 2576–2587.
van Dijk, A.I.J.M., and R.J. Keenan. 2007. Planted forests and water in perspective. Forest Ecology and Management 251: 1–9.
Weathers, K.C., and A.G. Ponette-González. 2011. Atmospheric deposition. In Forest hydrology and biogeochemistry, ed. D.F. Levia, D. Carlyle-Moses, and T. Tanaka, 357–370. Dordrecht: Springer.
Weathers, K.C., D.L. Strayer, and G.E. Likens (eds.). 2012. Fundamentals of ecosystem science. Waltham, MA: Academic Press.
Wohl, E., A. Barros, N. Brunsell, N.A. Chappell, M. Coe, T. Giambelluca, S. Goldsmith, R. Harmon, et al. 2012. The hydrology of the humid tropics. Nature Climate Change 2: 655–662.
Zhang, L., W.R. Dawes, and G.R. Walker. 2001. Response of mean annual evapotranspiration to vegetation changes at catchment scale. Water Resources Research 37: 701–708.
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.
Alexandra G. Ponette-González and Kate A. Brauman have contributed equally to this work.
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
About this article
Cite this article
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
- Land use
- Payments for watershed services
- Tropical ecosystems
- Watershed management