Secondary succession following cessation of grazing in the Italian Alps is causing widespread changes for extensive areas of subalpine wood-pastures “larch meadow”. These grazable forestlands represent a cultural landscape, rich in biodiversity and important as a historical heritage that needs to be monitored and studied to better orientate its conservation policies. Dendroecological and historical reconstruction of the land-use and stand dynamics were performed in different watersheds of the Western, Central and Eastern Italian. We used dendrochronology and ancillary records to reconstruct the stand development in the last 3-4 centuries and land cover mapping of aerial photographs to quantify detailed land cover changes in the last 50 years.
Forest structure, anthropogenic influences, land uses, and
topography were related through multivariate statistical analyses and observed
landscape changes were generalized using path analyses developed from a common
conceptual model. The stand development was strictly related to the grazing and
the human land-use.
A consistent reduction of the wood pastures was observed in all the studied valleys with a percent decline ranging from 47% to 95%. Open and semi-open habitats were strongly fragmented as a consequence of a reduction of their surface area and number of patches. Higher regeneration density was positively associated to wood-pastures located in close proximity to human settlements and shepherds huts. These researches gave the evidence of a transforming landscape, where the wood-pasture is progressively disappearing resulting in a simplification of the traditional complex mosaic of the Italian alpine valleys. Conservation through silviculture and grazing is suggested in places where tourism and livestock grazing are still present. In such valleys, a portion of wood pastures, located near the active pastures, could be conserved and/or restored to maintain the cultural landscape for naturalistic and tourist purposes.
Matteo Garbarino and Renzo Motta
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