The arid southeastern Iberian Peninsula is a unique region in which conservation and human development have coexisted and coevolved over many decades. However, conflicts between economic development and conservation have generated increasing concern due to the rapid expansion of greenhouse horticulture and the abandonment of rural and mountainous areas. Human decisions regarding land use management have affected the status of ecosystems and therefore the ecosystem services supply. We identified four land use-land cover changes that summarize the most common management decisions. These include greenhouse horticulture expansion, urban intensification, rural abandonment, and conservation actions, which occur through protected area declarations. This study aims to explore the social relevance of land use-land cover changes on the delivery of eight key services provided by Spanish arid ecosystems as follows: provisioning services related to intensive and traditional agriculture, regulating services associated with water regulation, climate regulation, air quality and erosion control, and cultural services linked to local identity and tourism. Through 402 face-to-face questionnaires, we analyzed the arguments for and against these four land use-land cover types. We also assessed their impact on ecosystem services and the social importance and vulnerability of ecosystem services. We found significant differences in the social perception of the positive and negative impacts of land use types on ecosystem services. The sample population recognized the negative impacts of greenhouse horticulture on regulating services that are, in terms of water regulation, essential for the sustained delivery of final provisioning services related to agricultural activities. Overall, traditional agriculture and tourism are recognized as the most important services. A controversy between the two opposite models of territorial development – urban development and nature conservation – highlights the need to promote new strategies of land management. Finally, we discuss the usefulness of this approach to understand the arguments affecting the promotion of land use-land cover changes and to visualize the ecosystem service trade-offs under different management strategies.
Keywords: Argument analysis, Arid, Conservation, Greenhouse, Rural abandonment, Urbanization