Fragmented Forests embedded within the Agricultural Matrix: Evaluating Social-Ecological Interactions in the San Juan La Selva Biological Corridor, Costa Rica
Over the past century, millions of acres of tropical forests worldwide were converted to agriculture to meet the needs of growing human populations. This land use conversion created landscapes of mosaics where fragments of native forest are embedded in an agricultural matrix. In recent years, a new pattern, intensive plantation agriculture, is replacing subsistence crops, changing the heterogeneous composition of the matrix and infringing on remnant forest patches. To create a resilient balance between conservation and human needs in these landscapes, we must understand the links between remnant forest patches, the agricultural matrix, and the communities whose land use decisions determine matrix composition. We developed an interdisciplinary model to evaluate links between how humans shape land use in the agricultural matrix and how the matrix affects forest connectivity and ecosystem properties and processes in forest patches. We will use remotely sensed imagery and regional level data to test the hypothesis that communities with greater access to markets and environmental attributes that promote agricultural production will be surrounded by more fragmented forests. At the local scale, in communities representing a gradient of forest fragmentation, we will survey households and link their characteristics and decision making processes to land use outcomes within the matrix. We will measure the effects of land use change in the agricultural matrix on interrelated ecosystem components: connectivity and gene flow for mutualistic bat and tree species, forest regeneration patterns, plant community functional properties, and ecosystem service provision. This research generates insights into managing the balance between conservation and rural livelihoods in the face of global change.