In many parts of the world the relationship between ecosystems and livelihoods is changing in fundamental but poorly understood ways as economic systems diversify across the urban-rural spectrum creating what we call mixed-economic “desakota” systems. Understanding these changes and their implications for vulnerable populations, particularly the poor, is essential to inform policy and action at all levels. Specifically, over the coming decades, two interacting forces will influence ecosystems services and their role as a foundation for livelihood systems across developing countries: (1) Intensifying processes of technological and economic globalization. These processes are increasing pressures on ecosystems while, at the same time, often shifting patterns of dependency on ecosystems from the local to more global levels; and (2) Environmental degradation at all levels from the local to the global scale including the impacts of climate change. These changes will undermine the ability of coupled ecological and social systems to provide critical services.