The long term impact of human activity on the structure of modern forests: A case from central Italy

Authors: Scott Mensing*, University of Nevada - Reno, Gianluca Piovesan, Tuscia University, Italy, Edward Schoolman, University of Nevada, Reno
Topics: Paleoenvironmental Change, Biogeography
Keywords: Italy, pollen analysis, ecologic restoration, paleoenvironmental change
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Coolidge, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The relevance of paleoecology to modern forest management is not always clear, however arguments are often made for the importance of a long-term perspective in understanding forest ecology. In this study, we present evidence from central Italy that illustrates the long-term influence of past human activity on forest structure and discuss how changes in culture and land use at specific points in time have caused virtually permanent ecologic changes. We analyze pollen and sedimentological proxies of environmental change from lakes within the Rieti Basin of central Italy, along with historical texts that provide the framework for changes in human occupation and land use since Roman time. We found that when new political structures with different cultural practices gained control of the region, this resulted in nearly immediate landscape change. Removal of desirable hardwood tree species by the Lombards in the 7th and 8th centuries led to loss of biodiversity that has never been regained in 1200 years. Moreover, continued land management priorities in the early modern period (since about 1750) supported expansion of woody taxa that had been minor elements in the original forest. The fact that human activity has converted forest cover is not new, but our work is able to pinpoint the timing and practices that have resulted in these forest changes and casts some light on what might be required in order to restore elements of the original forest environment.

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