Responding to disturbances: Lessons from a Mayan social-ecological system

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The Mayans of the Yucatán Peninsula, together with their environment, conform social-ecological systems with adaptation and resilience to natural, political and economic disturbances. In this study, we use the framework of social-ecological systems for describing a mechanism that allows a Mayan community and its natural environment to respond to disturbances over time. We describe (1) the activities that members of the community develop as part of their strategy for managing natural resource management, and (2) the history of the social-ecological system focusing on meaningful events: changes in their institutional body, landscape and/or practices for exploiting natural resources, and interactions between these changes. Through both semi-structured and in-depth interviews, historical narratives and participant observation, we found that managers use the environmental heterogeneity to diversify the exploitation of species, manage the secondary vegetation and protect mature vegetation. Formal and informal institutions of access, regulation and administration of natural resources regulate productive activities and management practices. These institutions operate differentially at the levels of environmental units (prohibition of the exploitation of the natural resources of mature tropical forests) and species (protection of the jaguar and cougar). Diversification of productive activities, management of environmental heterogeneity and the presence of flexible institutions enable responses in the social-ecological systems that have the potential to contribute to its long-term maintenance. Comprehensive studies like this might help to understand adaptive capacity and social-ecological resilience.




González-Cruz, G., García-Frapolli, E., Casas, A., & Dupuy, J. M. (2015). Responding to disturbances: Lessons from a Mayan social-ecological system. International Journal of the Commons, 9(2), 831–850.

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