Effects of land use change on biodiversity and ecosystem services in tropical montane cloud forests of Mexico


Tropical montane cloud forests deliver important goods and services to society, such as timber, the supply and purification of fresh water, and carbon sequestration. In spite of their relevance, current deforestation rates are very high, at the expense of affecting the provision of ecosystem services. We explore the impact of land use change in terms of provision of ecosystem services by following two approaches, one very detailed (focused on hydrological services – water quality) and another one with a broader perspective (at a large scale and considering the ecosystem service value (ESV) of several ecosystems and their ecosystem services at the same time). In the highlands of the State of Veracruz, previously forested lands were converted into coffee plantations and cattle ranches. To evaluate the role of species composition and community structure on water quality, we studied nine small watersheds (<15 ha) covered by pristine cloud forest, coffee plantations and cultivated grassland (three each). Species richness of the three land use types was similar, although species composition was as different as 90%. Overall species diversity as well as that of woody species, and growth form diversities decreased in the transformed land uses. Water quality of streams flowing through these watersheds declined: nutrients (nitrate), conductivity, cations, chloride and suspended solids were lowest in the forest streams and highest in streams from coffee watersheds, whereas grasslands were intermediate. We also calculated ecosystem service values (using the transfer value method) and estimated economic market–non-market gains and losses owing to land transformation. Loss of natural ecosystems may imply a significant economic loss to society in terms of ecosystem services, although market gains may still lead land owners to land conversion because revenues are higher. Adequate Payment for Ecosystem Services may be a good option to prevent deforestation, but the compensation should be at least equal to the opportunity cost of the promoted land use. Our estimates are indicative of the urgent need to go beyond water quantity as the most relevant ecosystem service considered in PES schemes.