Driving Forces of Forest Expansion Dynamics across the Iberian Peninsula (1987–2017): A Spatio-Temporal Transect

Mario Padial-Iglesias*, Miquel Ninyerola, Pere Serra, Òscar González-Guerrero, Josep Maria Espelta, Joan Pino, Xavier Pons

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This study analyzes the spatio-temporal dynamics of the drivers of forest expansion in the Iberian Peninsula for the periods 1987–2002–2017 through a 185 km-wide north–south Landsat scene transect. The analysis has considered a variety of biogeographical regions [0–3500 m.a.s.l, annual rainfalls 150–2200 mm] and 30 explanatory variables. A rigorous map production at 30 m resolution, including detailed filtering methods and uncertainty management at pixel scale, provided high-quality land cover maps. The main forest expansion trajectories were related to explanatory variables using boosted regression trees. Proximity to previous forests was a key common factor for forest encroachment in all forest types, with other factors being distance to the hydrographic network, temperature and precipitation for broadleaf deciduous forests (BDF), precipitation, temperature and solar radiation for broadleaf evergreen forests (BEF) and precipitation, distance to province capitals, and solar radiation for needleleaf evergreen forests (NEFs). Results also showed contrasting forest expansion trajectories and drivers per biogeographic region, with a high dynamism of grasslands towards new forest in the Eurosiberian and the mountainous Mediterranean regions, a high importance of croplands as land cover origin of new forest in the Mesomediterranean, and increasing importance over time of socioeconomic drivers (such as those employed in the industry sector and the utilized agricultural area) in the Supramediterranean region but the opposite pattern in the Southern Mesomediterranean. Lower precipitation rates favored new NEFs from shrublands in the Thermomediterraean region which, together with the Northern Mesomediterranean, exhibited the highest relative rates of new forests. These findings provide reliable insights to develop policies considering the ecological and social impacts of land abandonment and subsequent forest expansion.

Original languageEnglish
Article number475
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • boosted regression trees
  • driving forces
  • land abandonment
  • new forests


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