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Using social media photos to explore the relation between cultural ecosystem services and landscape features across five European sites

Oteros-Rozas, Elisa, Martín-López, Berta, Fagerholm, Nora, Bieling, Claudia, Plieninger, Tobias
Ecological indicators 2018 v.94 pp. 74-86
aesthetics, cultural heritage, cultural landscape, ecosystem services, grasslands, humans, infrastructure, land cover, photographs, recreation, shrubs, social networks, surface water, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
Cultural ecosystem services, such as aesthetic and recreational enjoyment, as well as sense of place and local identity, play an outstanding role in the contribution of landscapes to human well-being. Online data shared on social networks, particularly geo-tagged photos, are becoming an increasingly attractive source of information about cultural ecosystem services. Landscape photographs tell about the significance of human relationships with landscapes, human practices in landscapes and the landscape features that might possess value in terms of cultural ecosystem services. Despite all the recent advances in this emerging methodological approach, some challenges remain to be explored: (a) how to assess a broad suite of cultural ecosystem services, beyond aesthetic beauty of landscapes, (b) how to identify the landscape features that are relevant for providing cultural ecosystem services and determine trade-offs and synergies among cultural ecosystem services. To address these challenges, we have developed a methodological approach suitable for eliciting the importance of cultural ecosystem services and the landscape features underpinning their provision across five different sites in Europe (in Estonia, Greece, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). We have performed a content analysis of 1.404 photos uploaded in Flickr and Panoramio platforms that can represent cultural ecosystem services. Four bundles of landscapes features and cultural ecosystem services showed the relation of recreation with mountain areas (terrestrial recreation) and with water bodies (aquatic recreation). Cultural heritage, social and spiritual values were particularly attached to landscapes with woodpastures and grasslands, as well as urban features and infrastructures, i.e. to more anthropogenic landscapes. A positive though weak relationship was found between landscape diversity and cultural ecosystem services diversity. Particularly wood-pastures and shrubs were more frequently portrayed in all study sites in comparison with their actual land cover. The results can be of interest both for methodological purposes in the face of an increasing trend in the use of geo-tagged photos in the ecosystem services research and for the elicitation and comparison of landscape values across European cultural landscapes.