Landowners’ Socio-Cultural Valuation of Ecosystem Services Provided by Trees in Costa Rican Agricultural Landscapes

John Leary, Kerry Grimm, Clare Aslan, Melissa Mark, Sarah Frey, Robyn Bath-Rosenfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Over one-fourth of the world’s land area is dedicated to agriculture, and these lands provide important ecosystem services (ES). Trees are a key component of agricultural ecosystems’ ability to provide ES, especially in tropical regions. Agricultural landowners’ evaluation of the ES provided by trees influences management decisions, impacting tree cover at large scales. Using a case study approach, we conducted semi-structured interviews with four types of agricultural landowners in southern Costa Rica to better understand how they value ES provided by trees. We used a socio-cultural valuation method, which revealed that landowners highly valued regulating and provisioning ES provided by trees and that the number and type of ES identified was influenced by the principle economic activity. Those farmers with larger amounts of forests on their properties more often identified cultural ES. The socio-cultural valuation methods revealed that respondents valued trees as wildlife habitat, coupling supporting and cultural services with both material (e.g., tourism) and non-material benefits (e.g., beauty). Few farmers in the study benefited from payment for ecosystem services programs, but the high value farmers placed on trees indicates there are other opportunities to increase tree cover on farms, such as promotion of live fencing and expanded riparian corridors. Results from this work can help improve conservation outcomes by shifting the focus of ecosystem service valuation to the needs and concerns of small-scale farmers in the development of outreach programs, management plans, and policies aimed at increasing tree cover on private lands in agricultural landscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)974-987
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Agriculture
  • Conservation
  • Costa Rica
  • Ecosystem services
  • Socio-cultural valuation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Pollution


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