An ecological integrity assessment of a Brazilian Atlantic Forest watershed based on surveys of stream health and local farmers' perceptions: implications for management
In one of the centers of species endemism of the Atlantic Rainforest of Brail, the freshwater watershed regions of Rio de Janeiro state, a case study was carried out on the identification of human stakeholders in the hopes of involving them in ecosystem management, given the increasing human population growth pressures and demand for resources. Since land-degradation is site-specific, understanding the views of the local farmers and incorporating them into the conservation efforts is essential. This study assessed the status of forest fragments and rivers, and then compared and contrasted the scientific data to local knowledge to understand the underlying differences.
Conclusions & Takeaways
The ecological survey found intense clearance of riparian forests and agricultural-induced sedimentation and cattle-induced erosion and runoff of the streams. The ranchers and farmers, on the other hand, tended to consider their land ecologically sustainable. They fail to recognize the damages to their streams because their drinking water comes instead from forest remnant hilltop springs (while the streams feed downhill urban settlements). The local farmers often failed to recognize their own implicit roles in the degradation, and also failed to recognize the extent of the ecological damage, and decrease in water quantity and quality, since they are not directly affected. Hilltop springs are protected by forests because the land is not tenable for farming, and the springs are a private source of water supply. Conversely, the land around the rivers is very good for farming, and the rivers and streams are “useless” to the farmers due to providing water for other people rather than the land owner. For that reason, they are unlikely to protect riparian areas. The lack of direct effects of the degradation of their watersheds is a barrier to their involvement in conservation and restoration efforts. The benefits of land conversion to cattle and agriculture is directly evident to the farmer, while the ecosystem services of watershed protection is difficult to quantify and thus often left out from analyses of economic benefit for the farmers. The researchers recommend the creation of local, regional, and global ecosystem services markets, where land-owners are paid for their adoption of ecologically sound land management.
An ecological integrity assessment of a Brazilian Atlantic Forest watershed based on surveys of stream health and local farmers\textquotesingle perceptions: implications for management. Ecological Economics. 2005;53:369–385. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2004.12.003..
- Department Ecologia, UFRGS, Brazil