Patterns of Land-use Abandonment Control Tree-recruitment and Forest Dynamics in Mediterranean Mountains
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- Chauchard, S., Carcaillet, C. & Guibal, F. Ecosystems (2007) 10: 936. doi:10.1007/s10021-007-9065-4
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Mediterranean ecosystems have been impacted for millennia by human practices, particularly agricultural and pastoral activities. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, land-use abandonment has lead to scrubland and forest expansion, especially in mountain areas of the northern Mediterranean basin. This study aimed at analyzing how grazing history affects subsequent forest dynamics at a site located in the limestone foothills of the Southern Alps (France). The approach combines archival documents and dendroecology to investigate the origin, establishment and development of forest following land-use abandonment. Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) started to colonize quickly in the 1870s, with the recruitment rate increasing during the first decade of the 1900s, associated with a decline of the local human population and regional livestock. Since the 1960s, European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and silver fir (Abies alba) have regenerated in the understorey of Scots pines. Regeneration is controlled by a threshold of grazing pressure. Noticeably, the rate of reforestation differs according to the former land-use, with pastures being colonized more quickly than ploughed areas. Different previous land-uses leading to different times of grazing cessation, combined with variable herbaceous competition explain the contrasting micro-scale regeneration patterns. Agricultural land-use and abandonment are both significant driving forces of vegetation dynamics. Knowledge of these factors is thus necessary to understand present patterns and to predict future forest pathways in the Mediterranean mountains.