Date of Award


Semester of Degree


Document Type

Restricted Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D. in Environmental and Forest Biology


Environmental and Forest Biology

Major Professor

Stewart A.W. Diemont

Steering Committee Member

Robin Kimmerer

Steering Committee Member

Russell Briggs

Steering Committee Member

David Douterlunge


Although it covers less than 1% of Mexico’s land area, the Lacandon rainforest of Chiapas contains approximately a quarter of the plant and animal species found in the country, making the area a global biodiversity hotspot. Despite its diversity, almost half of the historic rainforest area has been deforested and 7% of the remaining forest cover is lost annually. Ecosystem restoration can help curtail these trends, but many restoration projects organized in the region fail in the long term because they do not involve the participation of local people or consider their socio-economic needs. Socioecological restoration that jointly addresses disruption of both social and ecological systems offers a potential alternative to ecologically-focused restoration. The Lacandon Maya are an indigenous group who have lived in the Lacandon rainforest for hundreds of years. Over this time, they have developed a sustainable agroforestry system which has provided them with the subsistence they need to survive without degrading local ecosystems. My research assesses whether the Lacandon Maya agroforestry system can serve as a framework for effective socioecological restoration in the tropical rainforest ecosystems in the Lacandon region of Chiapas, Mexico. To meet these objectives, I performed a holistic assessment of the diversity, structure, functions, and services of traditional, successional, swidden, Lacandon agroforests. My results indicate that several tree species planted by Lacandon farmers augment soil fertility and suppress the populations of pests that would hamper vegetation growth. Lacandon agroforests support diverse avian communities that became increasingly similar to those of mature forest. Lacandon milpa management can meet the nutritional needs of rural smallholder families by providing a diverse diet. Secondary agroforest management facilitates aboveground vegetation and organic matter structure succession to levels similar to mature forest. These results demonstrate that Lacandon agroforestry management principles can be incorporated into socioecological restoration plans that can address the ultimate causes of rainforest degradation in the Lacandon region of Chiapas. In so doing, they can enhance the resilience of local socioecological systems by ensuring ecosystem structures and processes, as well as the livelihoods, cultural integrity, and sovereignty of rural smallholders are sustained. This underscores the importance of maintaining Lacandon traditional ecological knowledge.