Conservation of isolated Atlantic heathlands in the Mediterranean region: Effects of land-use changes in the Montseny biosphere reserve (Spain)

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Abstract

In the Mediterranean region, cycles of controlled burning combined with continuous grazing appear to have been an effective tool for maintaining isolated Calluna vulgaris heathlands in the form in which they occur in many places in the Atlantic region. Changes in land use and management of the mosaic of extensively exploited heathland and associated grassland over recent decades, such as bringing land into cultivation followed by its abandonment and the prohibition of fires has resulted in a process of transformation into new shrub communities with lower biodiversity. In the Mediterranean region, these changes are similar to those described in the Atlantic area, but encroachment occurs faster and could lead ultimately to afforestation by Mediterranean woodland. In a study area of 300 ha of heathland in the Spanish Mediterranean basin (specifically, in the Montseny Natural Park and Biosphere Reserve), comparison of present and former vegetation showed that shrub cover increased from 15% in 1967 to 32% in 2000. Broom (Cytisus scoparius) was the main invasive species in abandoned crop fields, whereas Mediterranean holm oak forest (Quercus ilex) increased by 18%. The surface area of fernlands doubled and C. vulgaris heathlands decreased from 35% to just 9% during the same period. Intermixed grasslands also decreased moderately and progressively from 4% to 3%. It seems probable that cycles of fires are more important in terms of shrub control and biodiversity conservation than continuous grazing alone, even at a high rate of stocking (four small ruminants per hectare per year). This encroachment process throws into relief the role that isolated habitats can play as a monitor of land use changes. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-88
JournalBiological Conservation
Volume122
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2005

Keywords

  • Calluna vulgaris
  • Fire
  • Grassland
  • Grazing
  • Landscape

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