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Modification of Land Cover in a Traditional Agroforestry System in Spain: Processes of Tree Expansion and Regression

Tobias Plieninger, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities
Michael Schaar, University of Applied Sciences Berlin (TFH)


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Europe’s traditional cultural landscapes have undergone significant land-use and land-cover changes in the past 50 yr. Land-cover inventories facilitate the quantification of the conversion from one land-cover unit to another. However, they often fail to detect fine-grained modifications that occur within one land-cover category. This study aims to detect such land-cover modification at two farms within dehesas, a traditional agroforestry system in Spain. The focus is on the dynamics of holm oak (Quercus ilex) stands as the key landscape element of dehesas. Aerial photography and satellite imagery were used to measure tree expansion and regression between 1956 and 1984, and between 1984 and 2003. With < 0.01–0.03% of the tree cover recruited per year, current recruitment seems too low by a factor of 10 to 50 to maintain existing stand densities. Recruitment rates between 1956 and 2003 were slightly higher, but loss rates were dramatically higher on privately owned land compared to common property. Although higher grazing pressure on common property may have inhibited recruitment, the complexity of land tenure can act as a barrier to forest clearing. The synopsis of high loss rates from 1956 to 1984, low loss rates from 1984 to 2003, and low recruitment rates over both periods indicates that deliberate oak cutting has stopped, but that the problem of regeneration failure still remains unresolved. The analysis of oak expansion and regression as a precursor of land conversion can provide a powerful tool for subtle structural changes and can be used as an early warning system before conversion becomes visible.

Key words

landscape changes; landscape structure; Quercus ilex; traditional landscape; tree regression

Copyright © 2008 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087