Environmental Management

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 250–266 | Cite as

Socioeconomic Dimensions of Changes in the Agricultural Landscape of the Mediterranean Basin: A Case Study of the Abandonment of Cultivation Terraces on Nisyros Island, Greece

  • Theodora Petanidou
  • Thanasis Kizos
  • Nikolaos Soulakellis


Agricultural landscapes illustrate the impact of human actions on physical settings, and differential human pressures cause these landscapes to change with time. Our study explored changes in the terraced landscapes of Nisyros Island, Greece, focusing on the socioeconomic aspects during two time periods using field data, cadastral research, local documents, and published literature, as well as surveys of the islanders. Population increases during the late 19th to early 20th centuries marked a significant escalation of terrace and dry stone wall construction, which facilitated cultivation on 58.4% of the island. By the mid-20th century, the economic collapse of agricultural activities and consequent emigration caused the abandonment of cultivated land and traditional management practices, dramatically reducing farm and field numbers. Terrace abandonment continued in recent decades, with increased livestock grazing becoming the main land management tool; as a result, both farm and pasture sizes increased. Neglect and changing land use has led to deterioration and destruction of many terraces on the island. We discuss the socioeconomic and political backgrounds responsible for the land-use change before World War II (annexation of Nisyros Island by the Ottoman Empire, Italy, and Greece; overseas migration opportunities; and world transportation changes) and after the war (social changes in peasant societies; worldwide changes in agricultural production practices). The adverse landscape changes documented for Nisyros Island appear to be inevitable for modern Mediterranean rural societies, including those on other islands in this region. The island’s unique terraced landscapes may qualify Nisyros to become an archive or repository of old agricultural management techniques to be used by future generations and a living resource for sustainable management.


Agricultural landscape Landscape elements Land-use change Population migration Animal husbandry GIS mapping Aegean islands 



The study was supported by the Ministry of the Aegean (INTERREG II Program, Project entitled “Terraces in the islands of the Aegean: Role in the past and importance for their future in relation to economy, ecology and culture”, 1999–2001), and by the Municipality of Nisyros. We thank all collaborators and students who participated in the fieldwork and laboratory work (K. Karystinakis, P. Spastra, H. Dahm, D. Arabatzoglou, P. Tserpelis, V. Gkelou, and T. Kontos), for their invaluable contribution to the terrace mapping; G. Nikolakakis and T. Iosifidis for their advice on issues related to cultural and social documentation; and all local residents who responded to our questionnaires and participated in our interviews, and particularly D. Papadelias, A. Kaloudis, G. Sakellaridis, and A. Katsimatidi. We gratefully acknowledge Y. Mahairidis, P. Katsimatidis, and K. Hartofyllis for offering logistical support and providing background documents. The article benefited from a critical reading by E. Lamborn, M. Koulouri, B. Morehouse, G. Hart, and three anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Theodora Petanidou
    • 1
  • Thanasis Kizos
    • 1
  • Nikolaos Soulakellis
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of the AegeanMytileneGreece

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