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Semi-natural habitats in boreal Europe: a rise of a social-ecological research agenda

Irina Herzon, Department of Agricultural Sciences, University of Helsinki; Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science HELSUS
Kaisa J. Raatikainen, University of Jyväskylä, Department of Biological and Environmental Science, School of Resource Wisdom, University of Jyvaskyla, Finland; University of Turku, Department of Geography and Geology, Geography Section, Turku, Finland
Sølvi Wehn, NIBIO - Norwegian institute of Bioeconomy Research, Stjørdal, Norway; Multiconsult, Trondheim, Norway
Solvita Rūsiņa, Department of Geography, Faculty of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of Latvia, Riga, Latvia
Aveliina Helm, Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia
Sara A. O. Cousins, Stockholm University, Department of Physical Geography
Valerijus Rašomavičius, Nature Research Centre, Institute of Botany, Vilnius, Lithuania


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The European continent contains substantial areas of semi-natural habitats, mostly grasslands, which are among the most endangered habitats in Europe. Their continued existence depends on some form of human activity, for either production or conservation purposes, or both. We examined the share of semi-natural grasslands within the general grassland areas in boreal Europe. We reviewed research literature across the region to compile evidence on semi-natural grasslands and other semi-natural habitats, such as wooded pastures, in respect to a range of topics such as ecology, land-use change, socioeconomics, and production. We also explored drivers of the research agenda and outlined future research needs. Challenges are faced when defining and quantifying semi-natural habitats even across a restricted region. Agricultural development and other policies clearly impact the research agenda in various countries. There are recent signs of a shift from classical ecological studies toward more multidisciplinary and integrated research. To sufficiently address the threats faced by semi-natural habitats, political and research frameworks in the European Union should pay more attention to the social-ecological complexity inherent in their management and should support the engagement of various actors into participatory governance processes. This is in line with a full-farm approach implicit in high nature value farming systems.

Key words

agriculture; biodiversity; farmland; social-ecological systems; trends

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087