Post Hoc Assessment of Stand Structure Across European Wood-Pastures: Implications for Land Use Policy

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Europe's woodland and savanna rangelands, often part of silvopastoral systems known as wood-pastures, are deteriorating because of abandonment that leads to return to a forested state or lack of tree regeneration from overgrazing or tree and shrub removal. Despite numerous local studies, there has been no broader survey of the stand structure of European wood-pastures showing which systems are at risk of losing their semiopen character. This overview aims to 1) show some of the differences and similarities in wood-pastures from landscapes across Europe and 2) identify which of these wood-pastures are at risk of losing their semiopen character. We collated a dataset of 13 693 trees from 390 plots in wood-pastures from eight different European regions (western Estonia, eastern Greece, northern Germany, Hungary, northern Italy, southern Portugal, central Romania, and southern Sweden), including tree diameters at breast height, tree density, management type, and tree species composition. On the basis of their structural characteristics, we classified wood-pastures using principal component analysis (PCA) and cluster analysis. The PCA showed a gradient from dense wood-pastures with high levels of regeneration (e.g., in Estonia) to sparse wood-pastures with large trees but a lack of regeneration (e.g., in Romania). Along this gradient, we identified three main groups of wood-pastures: 1) sparse wood-pastures with mostly big trees; 2) dense wood-pastures composed of small trees, and 3) wood-pastures containing a wide range of tree ages. Our results show a large structural gradient in European wood-pastures, as well as regeneration problems varying in their severity, highlighting the importance of social-ecological context for wood-pasture conditions. To maintain the ecological and cultural integrity of European wood-pastures, we suggest 1) more comprehensively considering them in European policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy and EU Habitats Directive, while 2) taking into account their structural characteristics and social-ecological backgrounds.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRangeland Ecology and Management
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)526-535
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 09.2018

Bibliographical note

The study was partly supported by grants IUT34-7 from the Estonian Research Council (Estonia), FCT-MEC Postdoctoral grant (SFRH/BPD/97166/2013) (Portugal), the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme, Grant Agreement 613520 (Project AGFORWARD), and the Leuphana University Lüneburg.

    Research areas

  • agroforestry, savanna, scattered trees, silvopastoral systems, social-ecological systems, tree density, woodland
  • Environmental planning