Linking land cover dynamics with driving forces in mountain landscape of the Northwestern Iberian Peninsula

Adrián Regos, Miquel Ninyerola, Gerard Moré, Xavier Pons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


© 2014 The mountainous areas of the northwestern Iberian Peninsula have undergone intense land abandonment. In this work, we wanted to determine if the abandonment of the rural areas was the main driver of landscape dynamics in Gerês-Xurés Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (NW Iberian Peninsula), or if other factors, such as wildfires and the land management were also directly affecting these spatio-temporal dynamics. For this purpose, we used earth observation data acquired from Landsat TM and ETM + satellite sensors, complemented by ancillary data and prior field knowledge, to evaluate the land use/land cover changes in our study region over a 10-year period (2000-2010). The images were radiometrically calibrated using a digital elevation model to avoid cast- and self-shadows and different illumination effects caused by the intense topographic variations in the study area. We applied a Maximum likelihood classifier, as well as other five approaches that provided insights into the comparison of thematic maps. To describe the land cover changes we addressed the analysis from a multilevel approach in three areas with different regimes of environmental protection. The possible impact of wildfires was assessed from statistical and spatially explicit fire data. Our findings suggest that land abandonment and forestry activities are the main factors causing the changes in landscape patterns. Specifically, we found a strong decrease of the ‘meadows and crops’ and ‘sparse vegetation areas’ in favor of woodlands and scrublands. In addition, the huge impact of wildfires on the Portuguese side have generated new ‘rocky areas’, while on the Spanish side its impact does not seem to have been a decisive factor on the landscape dynamics in recent years. We conclude rural exodus of the last century, differences in land management and fire suppression policies between the two countries and the different protection schemes could partly explain the different patterns of changes recorded in these covers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


  • change drivers
  • land abandonment
  • Land cover changes
  • Landsat time-series
  • supervised classification
  • wildfires

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