Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 24, Issue 13, pp 3167–3183 | Cite as

Biodiversification as an historical process: an appeal for the application of historical ecology to bio-cultural diversity research

  • Roberta Cevasco
  • Diego Moreno
  • Robert Hearn
Original Paper


In the context of recent appeals for the adoption of historical perspectives emerging in environmental and conservation studies, ‘biodiversification processes’ would be considered as specific historical and historiographical topics. However, as highlighted in this paper, a broader discussion of the biodiversification processes as historical processes is needed. This paper discusses some consequences that are presented during the study of biodiversification processes when focusing on the links between cultural and biological diversity at the individual landscape level rather than on an overview of the current literature on the subject. In this discussion, we briefly underline dissimilarities in the methods adopted in historical ecology to those in the conventional historical approach nurtured in global environmental history where biodiversification processes, as subjects of historical study, are largely ignored or subsumed into general observations concerning global change or embedded in presumed ahistorical ‘traditional’ economies and practice systems. Such a broad reassessment is required before multi- or inter-disciplinary applications seek to answer ‘common questions’ (Szabó, Environ Conserv 37:380–387, 2010) in the field of environmental and cultural conservation studies. This paper comments on field and documentary evidence collected during multidisciplinary historical ecology approaches to research in the Northern Apennines (Italy) and Pyrenees (Franco-Spanish) sites. These site-level investigations suggest that medieval and post-medieval changes in local practices and systems of environmental resource production and activation appear to have been key drivers in co-related variations observed in the past biodiversity dynamics of the sites. In order to corroborate the sedimentary evidence (or traces of evidence) concerning taxonomic and habitat changes, historical ecology has proposed the adoption of a local approach in which a specific historical analysis and use of documentary and archival sources—as well as the archaeological and sedimentary evidence—has posed a number of new questions to the traditional use of archival and textual sources by professional historians. In doing so, it becomes clear that when observed at a local, topographical site-scale or on an individual landscape-scale, the links between biological and cultural diversity appear more clearly as historical products, rather than broad co-evolutionary issues relating to the ‘co-evolution of nature and culture’. These historically produced links between biological and cultural diversity—identified as biodiversification processes that can be uncovered and explored through the adoption of approaches from historical ecology—are the driving forces that ‘generate’ processes of circulation in local ecological knowledge and its related practices.


Biodiversification Bio-cultural landscapes Historical ecology Environmental history Field and documentary sources Local practices Placed knowledge Liguria 



The authors are indebted to the participants of the Seminario Permanente di Storia Locale (LASA–DAFIST–DISTAV) at the Università degli Studi di Genova for their diverse contributions to thematic and methodological discussions pertaining to the subject of this article, particularly prof. Osvaldo Raggio, Prof. Carlo Montanari, Prof. Roberto Maggi and Prof. Massimo Quaini. The authors also wish to thank Didier Galop and Chiara Molinari for providing the figures. We appreciated the constructive comments of the anonymous referees, which greatly improved the paper.


  1. Agnoletti M (ed) (2013) Italian historical rural landscapes. Springer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  2. Agnoletti M (2014) Environmental thinking and cultural values: a reflection on environmental globalization and the Mediterranean culture. Global Environ 7:13–46Google Scholar
  3. Armiero M, Hall M (eds) (2010) Nature and history in modern Italy. Ohio University Press, OhioGoogle Scholar
  4. Armitage D, Guldi J (2014) The history manifesto. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  5. Balzaretti R (2013) Dark Age Liguria: regional identity and local power, c. 400–1020. Bloomsbury, LondonGoogle Scholar
  6. Balzaretti R, Pearce M, Watkins C (eds) (2004) Ligurian landscapes: studies in archaeology, geography & history. Accordia, LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Beckett J, Watkins C (2011) Natural history and local history in late Victorian and Edwardian England: the contribution of the Victoria County History. Rural Hist 22:59–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Beltrametti G, Cevasco R, Moreno D, Stagno AM (2014) Les cultures temporaires entre longue durée et chronologie fine (montagne ligure, Italie). In: Viader R, Rendu C (eds) Cultures temporaires et féodalité. Les rotations culturales et l’appropriation du sol dans l’Europe médiévale et moderne. Presses Universitaires du Mirail, Toulouse, pp 235–258Google Scholar
  9. Berglund BE, Gaillard MJ, Björkman L, Persson T (2008) Long-term changes in floristic diversity in southern Sweden: palynological richness, vegetation dynamics and land-use. Veg Hist Archaeobot 17:573–583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bertolotto S, Cevasco R (2000) The ‘alnoculture’ system in the Ligurian eastern Apennines: archive evidence. In: Agnoletti M, Anderson S (eds) Methods and approaches in forest history. CAB International, Wallingford, pp 169–182Google Scholar
  11. Bertrand C (2014) La nature-artefact: entre anthropisation et artialisation, l’expérience du système GTP (Géosystème–Territoire–Paysage). L’information géographique 78:10–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Branch N (2004) Late würm lateglacial and holocene environmental history of the Ligurian Apennines, Italy. In: Balzaretti R, Pearce M, Watkins C (eds) Ligurian landscapes: studies in archaeology, geography and history. Accordia, London, pp 7–69Google Scholar
  13. Branch N, Guido MA, Menozzi BI, Placereani S, Montanari C (2002) Prime analisi polliniche per il sito ‘Moggia di Pian Brogione’ (Casanova Di Rovegno, Ge). Archeol Postmediev 6:125–131Google Scholar
  14. Cevasco R (2007) Memoria verde. Nuovi spazi per la geografia, Edizioni Diabasis, Reggio EmiliaGoogle Scholar
  15. Cevasco R (2010) The environmental heritage of a past cultural landscape: the alderwoods (Alnus incana Moench) in the upper Aveto Valley (NW Apennines). In: Armiero M, Hall M (eds) Nature and history in modern Italy. Ohio University Press, Ohio, pp 126–140Google Scholar
  16. Cevasco R (2012) A geographical heritage: the landscapes of Quercus cerris in the northern Apennines (NW Italy), Panel session “Historical Geography of the Ligurian Apennines”, organizer Charles Watkins, XV International Conference of Historical Geographers, Book of abstracts, Prague, Czech Republic, 6–10 Aug 2012Google Scholar
  17. Cevasco R (2013a) Storie per la gestione di una zona umida: le ‘specie indicatrici’. In: Cevasco R (ed) La natura della montagna. Scritti in ricordo di Giuseppina Poggi, Oltre Edizioni, Sestri Levante, pp 156–171Google Scholar
  18. Cevasco R (2013b) Dai cerri da foglia alle lupinelle: tracce dalle sequenze medievali e post-medievali del Lago di Rezzo (Val d’Aveto, Rezzoaglio-GE). In: Cevasco R (ed) La Natura della Montagna. Scritti in ricordo di Giuseppina Poggi, Oltre Edizioni, Sestri Levante, pp 453–465Google Scholar
  19. Cevasco R, Moreno D (2013) Rural landscapes: the historical roots of biodiversity. In: Agnoletti M (ed) Italian historical rural landscapes: cultural values for the environment and rural development. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 141–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cevasco R, Moreno D (2015) Historical ecology in modern conservation in southern Europe. In: Kirby K, Watkins C (eds) Europe’s changing woods and forests: from wildwood to managed landscapes. CAB International, Wallingford, pp 227–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cevasco R, Molinari C, Stagno AM, Zonza E (2009) The Moglia di Casanova site: new fieldwork evidences of historical land-use, in Atti del Seminario Internazionale Wetlands as archives of the cultural landscapes: from research to management/Le zone umide: archivi del paesaggio culturale tra ricerca e gestione, Genoa, 29th–30th January 2009 [poster]Google Scholar
  22. Cevasco R, Moreno D, Balzaretti R, Watkins C (2015) Historical chestnut cultures, climate and rural landscapes in the Apennines. In: Harvey D, Perry J (eds) The future of heritage as climates change: loss, adaptation and creativity. Routledge, London, pp 130–147Google Scholar
  23. Cugny C, Mazier F, Galop D (2011) Modern and fossil non-pollen palynomorphs from the Basque mountains (western Pyrenees, France): the use of coprophilous fungi to reconstruct pastoral activity. Veg Hist Archaeobot 19:391–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Davasse B (2015) La trace des temps. Les complexes socio-écologiques au prisme du paysage. Pour une géographie de l’environnement impliquée. Mémoire d’Habilitation à diriger des recherches (HDR), inédit scientifique non publié. Université de Toulouse Jean-Jaurès, ToulouseGoogle Scholar
  25. De Pascale A, Maggi R, Montanari C, Moreno D (2006) Pollen, herds, jasper and copper mines: economic and environmental changes during the fourth and third millennia BC in Liguria (NW Italy). Environ Archaeol 11:115–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Editorial (2008) Nature 455, 18 Sept 2008, pp 63–64Google Scholar
  27. Editorial (2014) Nature 506, 13 Feb 2014, p 132Google Scholar
  28. Fuller DQ (2012) New archaeobotanical information on plant domestication from marco-remains: tracking the evolution of domestication syndrome traits. In: Gepts P, Famula TR, Bettinger RL, Brush SB, Damania AB, Mcguire PE, Qualset CO (eds) Biodiversity in agriculture: domestication, evolution, and sustainability. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 110–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Galop D, Mazier F, Lopez-Saez JA, Vannière B (2004) Palynologie et histoire des activités humaines en milieu montagnard. Bilan provisoire des recherches et nouvelles orientations méthodologiques sur le versant nord des Pyrénées. Archéol du Midi Médi 21:159–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Galop D, Houet T, Mazier F, Leroux G, Rius D (2011) Grazing activities and biodiversity history in the Pyrenees: new insights on high altitude ecosystems in the framework of a human-environment observatory. PAGES Newslett 19:53–55Google Scholar
  31. Grendi E (1996) Storia di una storia locale. L’esperienza ligure 1792–1992. Marsilio, VeniceGoogle Scholar
  32. Grove AT, Rackham O (2001) The nature of mediterranean Europe: an ecological history. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  33. Guido MA, Menozzi BI, Bellini C, Placereani S, Montanari C (2013) A palynological contribution to the environmental archaeology of a Mediterranean mountain wetland (north west Apennines, Italy). Holocene 23:1517–1527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gustavsson E, Dahlström A, Emanuelsson M, Wissman J, Lennartsson T (2011) Combining historical and ecological knowledge to optimise biodiversity conservation in semi-natural grasslands. In: Lopez-Pujol J (ed) The importance of biological interactions in the study of biodiversity. InTEch Publisher, ZimbabweGoogle Scholar
  35. Ingold T (1993) The temporality of the landscape. World Archaeol 25:152–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ingold T (2000) The perception of the environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling, and skill. Routledge, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kirby K, Watkins C (eds) (2015) Europe’s changing woods and forests: from wildwood to managed landscapes. CAB Int, WallingfordGoogle Scholar
  38. Maggi R, De Pascale A (2011) Fire making water on the Ligurian Apennine. In: Van Leusen M, Pizziolo G, Sarti L (eds) Hidden landscapes of Mediterranean Europe: cultural and methodological biases in pre- and protohistoric landscape studies. British Archaeological Reports 2320, pp 105–112Google Scholar
  39. Maggi R, Montanari C, Moreno D (2009) An evolving approach to the knowledge and management of the Ligurian wetlands, Atti del Seminario Internazionale Wetlands as archives of the cultural landscapes: from research to management/Le zone umide: archivi del paesaggio culturale tra ricerca e gestione, Genoa, 29–30 Jan 2009 (poster)Google Scholar
  40. Menozzi BI, Bellini C, Cevasco A, Cevasco R, De Pascale A, Guido MA, Maggi R, Moe D, Montanari C, Moreno D (2007) The archaeology of a peat bog in context: contribution to the study of biodiversification processes in historical time (Ligurian Apennine, NW Italy). In: 4th International Congress of Medieval and Modern Archaeology, Paris SorbonneGoogle Scholar
  41. Menozzi BI, Cevasco R, Montanari C (2009) Dinamiche dell’uso del suolo in una valle dell’Appennino ligure sulla base di palinomorfi pollinici e non pollinici. 104° Congresso della Società Botanica Italiana, Campobasso, 16th–19th Sept 2009 (poster)Google Scholar
  42. Menozzi BI, Zotti M, Montanari C (2010) A non-pollen palynomorphs contribution to the local environmental history in the Ligurian Apennines: a preliminary study. Veg Hist Archaeobot 19:503–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Métailié JP (1981) Le feu pastoral dans les Pyrénées centrales: Barousse, Oueil, Larboust. Editions du CNRS, ParisGoogle Scholar
  44. Meyer RS, Purugganan MD (2013) Evolution of crop species: genetics of domestication and diversification. Nat Rev 14:840–852CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Molinari C (2010) Ricerche palinologiche per l’identificazione di sistemi agro-silvo-pastorali storici. Unpublished PhD thesis, Università di GenovaGoogle Scholar
  46. Molinari C, Montanari C (2015) Interdisciplinary approach for reconstructing an alder-based historical agricultural practice of the Eastern Ligurian Apennines (NW Italy). Environ Archaeol. doi: 10.1179/1749631414Y.0000000056 Google Scholar
  47. Montanari C, Moreno D (2014) Paesaggi rurali e conservazione ambientale: l’approccio storico alla scala locale. In: Moneta V, Parola C (eds) Oltre la naturalizzazione. Studi di ecologia storica per la riqualificazione dei paesaggi rurali, Oltre Edizioni, Sestri Levante, pp 19–28Google Scholar
  48. Moreno D (2003) Activation practices, history of environmental resources, and conservation. In: Sanga G, Ortalli G (eds) Nature knowledge: ethnoscience, cognition and utility. Berghahn, Oxford, pp 386–390Google Scholar
  49. Moreno D (2013) L’altro lato della via Balbi. Ricerche di terreno in Liguria (1990–2010). In: Cevasco R (ed) La Natura della Montagna. Studi in ricordo di Giuseppina Poggi. Oltre Edizioni, Sestri Levante, pp 32–42Google Scholar
  50. Moreno D, Cevasco R (2007) Appunti dal terreno: storia locale, storia territoriale ed ecologia storic. In: Bordone R, Guglielmotti P, Lombardini S, Torre A (eds) Lo spazio politico locale in età medievale, moderna e contemporanea. Edizioni dell’Orso, Alessandria, pp 313–328Google Scholar
  51. Moreno D, Piussi P, Rackham O (eds) (1982) Boschi: storia e archeologia. Quaderni storici 49 Ancona-RomaGoogle Scholar
  52. Moreno D, Cevasco R, Bertolotto S, Poggi G (1998) Historical ecology and post-medieval management practices in alder woods (Alnus incana (L.) Moench) in the northern Apennines, Italy. In: Kirby K, Watkins C (eds) The ecological history of European forests. CAB International, Wallingford, pp 185–201Google Scholar
  53. Parrotta J, Agnoletti M, Johann E (eds) (2006) Cultural heritage and sustainable forest management: the role of traditional knowledge. In: Proceedings of the IUFRO conference held in Florence, Italy, 8th–11th June 2006. MCPFE Liaison Unit, WarsawGoogle Scholar
  54. Rackham O (1998) Implications of historical ecology for conservation. In: Sutherland WJ (ed) Conservation science and action. Blackwell Science, Malden, pp 152–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Raggio O (2004) Microhistorical approaches to the history of Liguria: from microanalysis to local history. Edoardo Grendi’s achievements. In: Balzaretti R, Pearce M, Watkins C (eds) Ligurian landscapes: studies in archaeology, geography and history. Accordia, London, pp 97–104Google Scholar
  56. Rius D, Vannière B, Galop D (2012) Holocene history of fire, vegetation and land use from the central Pyrenees (France). Quatern Res 77:54–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rotherham ID (ed) (2013) Severance and the environment. The ending of traditional and customary practice on commons and landscapes managed in common. Springer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  58. Sanga G, Ortalli G (eds) (2003) Nature knowledge: ethnoscience, cognition and utility. Berghahn Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  59. Schreg R (2014) Ecological approaches in medieval rural archaeology. Eur J Archaeol 17:83–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Servais T, Harper DAT, Munnecke A, Owen AW, Sheehan PM (2009) Understanding the great ordovician biodiversification event (GOBE): influences of paleogeography, paleoclimate, or paleoecology? GSA Today 19:4–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Stagno AM (2015) Seasonal settlements and husbandry resources in Ligurian Apennines (17th–20th centuries). In: Collins J (ed) Malga, buron, Alm, shieling, seter, sala, orry and cayolar: seasonal exploitation of uplands from prehistory to the modern day. Equinox Publishing, Sheffield (in press) Google Scholar
  62. Stagno AM, Molinari C (2014) Insediamenti e risorse dell’allevamento nell’Appennino Ligure (XVII–XIX secolo). In: Avanzini M, Salvador I (eds) Antichi pastori. Sopravvivenze, tradizione orale, storia, tracce nel paesaggio e archeologia. Atti della Tavola rotonda Bosco Chiesanuova (Vr), 26–27 ottobre 2013. Museo delle Scienze, Trento, pp 9–31Google Scholar
  63. Stagno AM, Cevasco R, Parola C, Cevasco A, Montanari C, Rossi M, Gattiglia A (2013) From a monolith to a “slope history” at Costa dei Ghiffi (Borzonasca, Ge) section 8. In: Stagno AM (ed) Carved mountains. Engraved stones. Environmental resources archaeology in Mediterranean Mountains, Archeologia postmedievale, 17, 2013, pp 391–433Google Scholar
  64. Swetnam WT, Allen CD, Betancourt JL (1999) Applied historical ecology: using the past to manage the future. Ecol Appl 9:1189–1206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Szabó P (2010) Why history matters in ecology: an interdisciplinary perspective. Environ Conserv 37:380–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Turnhout E, Bloomfield B, Hulme M, Vogel J (2012) Conservation policy: listen to the voices of experience. Nature 488:454–455CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Vannière B, Galop D, Rendu C, Davasse B (2001) Feu et pratiques agro-pastorales dans les Pyrénées-Orientales: le cas de la montagne d’Enveitg (Cerdagne, Pyrénées-Orientales, France). Sud-Ouest Européen 11:29–42Google Scholar
  68. Watkins C (2014) Trees, woods and forests. A social and cultural history. Reaktion Books, LondonGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Università degli Studi di Scienze GastronomicheBraItaly
  2. 2.Laboratorio di Archeologia e Storia Ambientale (LASA), Dipartimento di Antichità, Filosofia e Storia (DAFIST) & Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, dell’Ambiente e della Vita (DISTAV)Università degli Studi di GenovaGenoaItaly

Personalised recommendations