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Erosional response to land abandonment in rural areas of Western Europe during the Anthropocene: A case study in the Massif-Central, France

Foucher, Anthony, Evrard, Olivier, Chabert, Clément, Cerdan, Olivier, Lefèvre, Irène, Vandromme, Rosalie, Salvador-Blanes, Sébastien
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2019 v.284 pp. 106582
Anthropocene epoch, abandoned land, afforestation, arable soils, case studies, cultivation area, developed countries, disturbed soils, forests, intensive farming, land use change, long term effects, prediction, rural areas, rural population, sediments, soil erosion, watersheds, France, Western European region
Abandonment of agricultural land is widespread in many developed countries. These surfaces are projected to increase significantly worldwide during the 21th century. Identifying potential relationships between land abandonment and soil erosion dynamics over the long term (100 years) is therefore essential for predicting the environmental consequences of this extensive land use change. Accordingly, sediment cores were collected in two highland catchments of central France in order to reconstruct the change of sediment delivery during the last century. The results showed a substantial decline (71–78%) of rural population in both sites since 1900. This decrease occurred simultaneously with a sharp decline (85–95%) of the surface of arable land: previously cultivated areas were mainly converted into forests as the result of natural and anthropogenic processes. Consequently, sediment deliveries significantly decreased (75–99%) in both catchments. These trends were nevertheless interrupted by the implementation of afforestation works between 1945 and 1970 in one of the catchments. During these works, erosion rates increased three-fold because of extensive soil disturbance, and sediment delivery stabilized only 15 years after the onset of these management operations. Overall, this study demonstrates the long-term effect of land abandonment on soil erosion, which supplements the more widely reported acceleration trend of soil erosion because of agricultural intensification.