Watershed investment programs frequently use land cover as a proxy for water-based ecosystem services, an approach based on assumed relationships between land cover and hydrologic outcomes. Water flows are rarely quantified, and unanticipated results are common, suggesting land cover alone is not a reliable proxy for water services. We argue that managing key hydrologic fluxes at the site of intervention is more effective than promoting particular land-cover types. Moving beyond land cover proxies to a focus on hydrologic fluxes requires that programs (1) identify the specific water service of interest and associated hydrologic flux; (2) account for structural and ecological characteristics of the relevant land cover; and, (3) determine key mediators of the target hydrologic flux. Using examples from the tropics, we illustrate how this conceptual framework can clarify interventions with a higher probability of delivering desired water services than with land cover as a proxy.
- Land use
- Payments for watershed services
- Tropical ecosystems
- Watershed management