Human Ecology

, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 639–651 | Cite as

Belowground and Aboveground Sustainability: Historical Management Change in a Mediterranean Agroecosystem (Les Oluges, Spain, 1860–1959-1999)

  • Lucía DíezEmail author
  • José Ramón Olarieta
  • Enric Tello


We examine the historical evolution of the farming practices linked to the maintenance of soil fertility in a semi-arid Mediterranean village. We analyse the agroecosystem from a sociometabolic perspective at three different points in time (c.1860, 1959, and 1999), focusing on the estimation of the nutrient balances and connecting the assessment of the belowground sustainability with the aboveground dimension of agroecosystem management. Nutrient balances at the aggregated scale were in greater equilibrium in 1860 and 1959 (with results between -7 and 1 kg ha−1) than in 1999 (with nutrient surpluses over 86 kg ha−1), but at the crop system scale nutrient deficits existed at all three points. We discuss the complexity of sustainable farming management assessing the efficiency, effectiveness, and durability of the fertilization techniques. Our conclusions highlight the unsustainable nature of industrialized agriculture and the value of integrated management of agroecosystems to improve agricultural sustainability.


Nutrient balances Agricultural sustainability Social metabolism Traditional agricultural management Agroecology Mediterranean Spain 



We would like to thank Xavier Mestre, Josep Maria Llenes and Vicent Torres for their information about the agricultural managements in 1959 and 1999.

Funding Information

This research has been funded by the Spanish project RTI2018-093970-B-C33.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10745_2019_105_MOESM1_ESM.docx (44 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 43 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economic History, Institutions, Policy and World Economy, Faculty of Economics and BusinessUniversity of BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Department of Soil Science and Environment, Engineering School of Agriculture (ETSEA)University of LleidaLleidaSpain

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