Question: How do differing social and economic systems affect the dynamics and trajectory of land cover / land use change on similar, neighbouring ecosystems in a time span when an economic industrialization program was enforced?
Location: Tijuana River watershed, located on the border between Baja California, Mexico and California, United States.
Methods: We quantified land use changes between 1970 and 1994 in the Tijuana River watershed. Using aerial photographs and geographic information systems, we elaborated land-cover/use maps and calculated transition probability matrices to describe natural land-cover changes at the landscape level on both sides of the border.
Results: Land cover / land use transitions are mainly driven by urban development on both sides of the border, but exhibit different patterns in each country. The processes seem to be more complex in the Mexican part of the basin, where itinerant land use may revert induced grasslands and rain-fed agriculture into natural communities, than on the US side, where the transition pathways are few and unidirectional.
Conclusions: Despite the need for an integrated planning and management of binational basins and shared water resources, in practice, these goals may be hampered by different economic and social factors triggering land use change within each country.