Land-use history as a guide for forest conservation and management

Whitlock, Cathy; Colombaroli, Daniele; Conedera, Marco; Tinner, Willy (2018). Land-use history as a guide for forest conservation and management. Conservation Biology, 32(1), pp. 84-97. Blackwell Scientific Publications 10.1111/cobi.12960

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Conservation efforts to protect forested landscapes are challenged by climate projections that suggest significant restructuring of vegetation and disturbance regimes in the future. In this regard, paleoecological records that describe ecosystem responses to past variations in climate, fire and human activity offer critical information for assessing present landscape conditions and future landscape vulnerability. We illustrate this point drawing on eight sites in the northwest U.S., New Zealand, Patagonia, and central and southern Europe that have experienced different levels of climate and land-use change. These sites fall along a gradient of landscape conditions that range from near-pristine (i.e., where vegetation and disturbance have been significantly shaped by past climate and biophysical constraints) to highly altered (i.e., landscapes that have been intensely modified by past human activity). Position on this gradient has implications for understanding the role of natural and anthropogenic disturbance in shaping ecosystem dynamics and assessments of present biodiversity, including recognizing missing or overrepresented species. All the study sites reveal dramatic vegetation reorganization in the past as a result of postglacial climate variations. In nearly-pristine landscapes, like Yellowstone, climate has remained the primary driver of ecosystem change up to the present day. In Europe, natural vegetation-climate-fire linkages were broken ∼6000-8000 years ago with the onset of Neolithic farming, and in New Zealand, natural linkages were first lost ∼700 years ago with arrival of the Māori people. In the northwestern U.S. and Patagonia, greatest landscape alteration has occurred in the last 150 years with Euro-American settlement. Paleoecology is sometimes the best and only tool for evaluating the degree of this alteration and the extent to which landscapes retain natural components. Information on landscape-level history thus helps assess current ecological change, clarify management objectives, and define conservation strategies that seek to protect both "natural" and "cultural" elements.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Palaeoecology
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Colombaroli, Daniele and Tinner, Willy


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)




Blackwell Scientific Publications




Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

09 Aug 2017 17:32

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:06

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