Characterizing social-ecological units to inform biodiversity conservation in cultural landscapes

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Aim: Cultural landscapes and their biodiversity are threatened by land use changes and the abandonment of traditional farming techniques. Conceptualizing cultural landscapes as social-ecological systems can be useful to develop strategies for biodiversity conservation. First, this study aimed to develop a typology of social-ecological units based on land use patterns. Second, we sought to relate this typology to biophysical and socio-demographic drivers as well as to biodiversity outcomes. Location: Southern Transylvania (Romania). Methods: We developed a typology of villages in Southern Transylvania based on land use data. We collected species richness data for plants, butterflies and birds, modelled local richness data for each village and related these values to the village typology. Also, we related village typology to biophysical and socio-demographic variables. Results: We identified four types of villages that showed distinct species richness patterns. Bird richness was highest in forest-dominated and mixed-land use villages; plant richness was highest in pasture-dominated villages; and butterfly richness was high in arable-dominated, mixed-land use and pasture-dominated villages. The four types of villages had distinct topographic characteristics and also differed in terms of ethnic composition, migration patterns and geographic location. Drawing on a combined understanding of social-ecological variables, different conservation actions could be prioritized for each of the four village types. Main conclusions: Applying social-ecological approaches has the potential to inform biodiversity conservation in cultural landscapes. Social-ecological typologies can improve our understanding of complex systems and provide useful input for the development of effective strategies for biodiversity conservation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)853-864
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 01.08.2016

    Research areas

  • Farmland biodiversity, Human-environment systems, Landscape sustainability science, Traditional farming landscapes
  • Environmental planning