Landowner preferences for tree configurations in rural Costa Rica: a photo-based survey approach

Savannah L. Lehnert, Kerry E. Grimm, Clare E. Aslan, Sarah J.K. Frey, Melissa M. Mark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agroecology is gaining increasing attention as a solution to maintaining robust ecosystem services for rural communities and down-stream users in tropical regions. The incorporation of trees into working landscapes is one specific agroecology practice, which to be effective must be driven by regional values and preferences. Using an exploratory study from rural Costa Rica, we illustrate how a photo-based survey approach can assist in determining landowner preferences for tree configurations that could be incorporated into private-property landscape design. We also examined landowner motivations and community-identified barriers to maintaining tree cover on private property. Through the photo-based survey, which was deployed online in 2020, we found that landowners were more interested in the incorporation of large tree configurations (e.g. wide riparian buffer zones; large, forested patches) over smaller ones (e.g. small, forested patches; isolated trees). While preferred tree configurations supported landowner-identified values (e.g. habitat provisioning; watershed protection), barriers most likely inhibited the actual implementation of such configurations, including limited space and financial resources. To overcome such barriers, a diversified approach including involvement by government and local NGOs may increase accessibility of preferred tree configurations among small landholders interested in conservation. Photo-based surveys are effective tools for increasing dialogue with local communities, which can generate a deeper understanding of potential challenges and landowner interest in tree incorporation, thus informing regional agroecology recommendations and policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104
JournalRegional Environmental Change
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • Agroecology
  • Costa Rica
  • Landowner preference
  • Photo-based survey
  • Tree configurations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change


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