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Effects of long-term landscape dynamics and city growth on biodiversity in the Mediterranean: the case study of Montpellier, France


In the Mediterranean, long-term land-use changes have resulted into landscape mosaics composed of very few ancient woodland remnants scattered across extended post-agricultural woodlands. Patches of ancient woodlands are now suffering rapid urban growth that reduces their area and impact their associated biodiversity. Here we use the case study of Montpellier, one of the most dynamic cities in France, to 1) characterize temporal changes in land covers (between 1860 and 2006) in its area, and 2) using two guilds of fungal bioindicators (i.e., polypores and lichens), to compare biodiversity stakes between ancient and secondary Mediterranean woodlands. We used a combination of historical maps, archives, fungal collections and field survey in eight Quercus ilex patches (4 ancient versus 4 recent replicates) to reconstruct landscapes dynamics and assess biodiversity changes. From the 19th to the 21st century, over half (52.4%) of the ancient woodlands within Montpellier were replaced by other land covers, mainly by urban equipment, while secondary patches (16.8% of the total area) were naturally established. Remaining ancient woodlands show multi-layered vegetation made of multi-secular Pinus halepensis dominating a dynamic understorey made of Quercus ilex and various Mediterranean shrubs. Polypores, but not macrolichens, tended to differ in community composition between ancient and recent woodland patches, with the highest diversity found in ancient woodlands. This study highlights that urban woodland patches of contrasted histories harbour distinct biodiversity stakes to be included in urban planning and provide valuable areas to evaluate biodiversity patterns and dynamics.

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This study was funded by a CIFRE convention (N° 187/2011) between the French National Association for Research and Technology (ANRT) and Biotope ( We are particularly grateful to the owners of the private parks (C. de Monteville, F. de Brunélis, E. du Boishamon and M. de Camaret) who gave us an access to their domain. Many thanks to the Société d’Horticulture et d’Histoire Naturelle de l’Hérault for providing helpful information on sampling sites and help during field sampling, and to the University of Montpellier, Service des Collections (V. Bourgade) for the access to historical collections of herbarium MPU. We are also grateful to Jean-Michel Bellanger (CEFE, Montpellier) for help with fungal identification and Zhun Mao (AMAP-INRA, Montpellier) for helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Hélène Vogt-Schilb.

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Vogt-Schilb, H., Moreau, P., Malaval, J. et al. Effects of long-term landscape dynamics and city growth on biodiversity in the Mediterranean: the case study of Montpellier, France. Urban Ecosyst 21, 921–932 (2018).

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  • Ancient woodlands
  • Lichens
  • Mediterranean
  • Polypores
  • Quercus ilex
  • Urban growth