Land use change results from top-down drivers, such as policies, trade, and migration. Land use change may also result from community-based responses. In Mexico, rural communities govern most of the country's forests. This study aimed to assess how socio-economic and biophysical factors affected the landscape trajectories of rural communities in southern Mexico. It also aimed at evaluating the role of communities in landscape change. Land use change of 63 rural communities was analyzed for the years 1987 and 2017. Four land uses were distinguished: forest, shrubland, agriculture, and bare soil. Five groups of communities were identified according to their socio-economic and biophysical factors. Two groups located in areas with high slopes and elevated marginalization index values showed deforestation patterns. Two other groups, consisting of more than half of the municipalities assessed, showed reforestation trends. The final group did not reveal major changes in land use. Two municipalities with reforestation trends were selected for an in-depth analysis of how community-based responses impacted natural resource management and conservation. Through local assemblies, the population voted for regulations that increased the forest area and reduced the bare soil. There was no evidence that these regulations affected croplands. These results show how a combination of socio-economic and biophysical factors can affect landscape change, but it also shows the often overlooked role of communities as a relevant bottom-up driver of change.
- community landscape management
- drivers of change
- land use change