Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

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Unraveling drivers of scattered tree loss in Germany

Trees outside forests are often overlooked, yet are important for biodiversity and carbon dynamics. A new paper, led by Tobias Plieninger and just published in PLOS One, highlights that orchard meadows in Southern Germany have been disappearing rapidly over the last decades, mainly due to conversion to more profitable land uses and urban areas. The paper also identifies what characterizes persistent orchard meadows - information that could be used to craft more effective policies to preserve these landscape elements.

Patterns and Drivers of Scattered Tree Loss in Agricultural Landscapes: Orchard Meadows in Germany (1968-2009)


Tobias Plieninger | Christian Levers | Martin Mantel | Augusta Costa | Harald Schaich | Tobias Kuemmerle

 

Scattered trees support high levels of farmland biodiversity and ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes, but they are threatened by agricultural intensification, urbanization, and land abandonment. This study aimed to map and quantify the decline of orchard meadows (scattered fruit trees of high nature conservation value) for a region in Southwestern Germany for the 1968 2009 period and to identify the driving forces of this decline. We derived orchard meadow loss from 1968 and 2009 aerial images and used a boosted regression trees modelling framework to assess the relative importance of 18 environmental, demographic, and socio-economic variables to test five alternative hypothesis explaining orchard meadow loss. We found that orchard meadow loss occurred in flatter areas, in areas where smaller plot sizes and fragmented orchard meadows prevailed, and in areas near settlements and infrastructure. The analysis did not confirm that orchard meadow loss was higher in areas where agricultural intensification was stronger and in areas of lower implementation levels of conservation policies. Our results demonstrated that the influential drivers of orchard meadow loss were those that reduce economic profitability and increase opportunity costs for orchards, providing incentives for converting orchard meadows to other, more profitable land uses. These insights could be taken up by local- and regional-level conservation policies to identify the sites of persistent orchard meadows in agricultural landscapes that would be prioritized in conservation efforts.

 

Link to the manuscript: DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126178

Citation: Plieninger, T, Levers, C., Mantel, M., Costa, A., Schaich, H., & Kuemmerle, T. (2015): Patterns and drivers of scattered tree loss in agricultural landscapes: Orchard meadows in Germany (1968-2009). PLOS One, 10, e0126178.