Main content area

Natural sacred sites as indicators of social-ecological system change in traditional landscapes of Northern Morocco

Salah, HoudaBen, Bombín, RafaelEscribano, Taïqui, Lahcen
Landscape and ecological engineering 2018 v.14 no.1 pp. 121-133
Olea europaea, Quercus coccifera, Quercus suber, agroforestry, forests, global change, groves, herbaceous plants, land use, landscapes, multivariate analysis, shrublands, shrubs, trees, tribal lands, vascular plants, woodlands, Morocco
In Morocco, sacred groves called marabouts constitute a dense network of wild-forest remnants of high ecological and cultural value but which are threatened by global change. In this study, we investigated the relationship between sacred natural site (SNS) structure and landscape dynamics in the traditional Mediterranean landscape of the Beni Arouss tribe in Northern Morocco. The total number of sacred sites considered was 101, with an average density of 3 SNSs per 10 km² and an average area of 2.73 ha per SNS covered with natural vegetation—mainly cork oak forests (Quercus suber), woodlands (Quercus coccifera, Olea europaea), and scrublands. Analysis of the vascular plants in these sacred groves showed that there were 73 natural species and 3 fruit species in total; the natural species belonged to four plant forms: 6 tree species, 10 liana species, 20 shrub species, and 37 herbaceous plant species. To investigate the relationships between sacred groves and landscape change, the territory was divided into 51 land-use clusters around rural settlements. Multivariate analysis permitted the identification of three types of clusters categorized according to social-ecological system (SES): forest (F), agro-forest (AF), and agriculture (A). The landscape dynamics over the period from 1986 to 2003 were investigated, and those dynamics were found to be dominated by the conversion of forest to agriculture, which resulted in the transformation of 25% of the SESs from F-SESs and AF-SESs into A-SESs during the period considered. Statistical comparisons of plant forms in sacred groves belonging to stable SESs during the period 1986–2003 showed that tree richness and liana cover were higher in F-SESs than in A-SESs, shrub richness and cover were higher in AF-SESs than in A-SESs, but there were no plant forms differences between F-SESs and AF-SESs. We argue that SES transformation processes—as represented by spatial dynamics—involve a regression of sacred groves, such that the functional plant groups of sacred groves could be considered ecological indicators.