Stakeholder groups are not homogeneous across individuals and through time, especially in relation to the importance of ecosystem services. However, the approaches commonly used to characterize the average importance and values of stakeholder groups overlook the heterogeneity in the individual priorities. This heterogeneity is particularly relevant for smallholders, who play a key role in ecosystem management but are more vulnerable to globalization than owners of large plots. We analyzed the priorities differentially assigned to ecosystem services and the reasons associated with the importance attributed to those services by individual cattle ranchers on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. We interviewed 27 cattle ranchers from neighboring rural communities. The services perceived by each rancher were identified from selected regional photographs. These services were then arranged in order of importance by interviewees, who were asked to provide the reasons for their choices. We used multivariate methods to examine the relationship between priorities for services and the livelihood of the individual. Interpretative qualitative methods elicited the reasons associated with the relative importance of the prioritized services. We identified 54 different services. Overall, individuals prioritized provisioning services directly related to their ranching activity. Individuals with the highest level of education and greatest diversity of productive activities (e.g., farmer, mason, merchant) also prioritized cultural services associated with ecotourism potential. The reasons associated with the importance attributed to the prioritized services varied widely among individuals. The list of ecosystem services perceived was context-specific, strongly influenced by the salient characteristics of the ecosystem and of the ranching way of life. A generational change in livelihoods has affected priorities. The reasons behind the importance of the prioritized services were diverse among individuals. By revealing the heterogeneity among individuals, we emphasize the need to make flexible policies that integrate diverse values and contexts to accomplish smallholder inclusivity.
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