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Effects of land-use and land-cover pattern on landscape-scale biodiversity in the European Alps

Zimmermann, Patrick, Tasser, Erich, Leitinger, Georg, Tappeiner, Ulrike
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2010 v.139 no.1-2 pp. 13-22
mountains, biodiversity, land use, plant communities, vegetation, vegetation cover, landscapes, geographical variation, land use change, spatial variation, temporal variation, aerial photography, flora, grasslands, agriculture, abandoned land, fruit crops, urbanization, Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, Italy
This study aims at (1) detecting the main agricultural land-use/land-cover (LULC) trends that have occurred across the Alps since the 19th century and (2) assessing how landscape-scale biodiversity is affected by spatiotemporal LULC patterns. In a representative analysis, 35 municipalities covering the principal types of environmental, agro-economic and political conditions in the Alps were investigated. Based on historical maps and aerial photographs the LULC trends were determined using a hierarchical cluster analysis. Data on the plant species richness of the occurring LULC classes were derived from phytosociological literature. Finally, land-cover and floristic data were used to calculate indicators for the three aspects of α-, β- and γ-diversity. Five main LULC trends could be found. Areas with grassland farming either experienced (1) the abandonment of grassland or (2) continuous grassland use. Areas with mixed agriculture either underwent (3) a specialisation in grassland farming, (4) a specialisation in vine and fruit cultures or (5) the continuous use of arable fields. Vine and fruit farming along with land abandonment and urban sprawl had the most negative impact on all aspects of landscape-scale biodiversity.