The Mediterranean basin is known for its beautiful tree-crop landscapes with a vast biodiversity such as the oak landscapes in Spain (dehesas), chestnut landscapes in Corsica (France) and olive landscapes Morocco. Nowadays, traditional landscapes are endangered by either intensification of landuse or abandonment of management. Humans are not only the origin of this tensions, but also creators of these landscapes. The tree-crop landscapes in the Mediterranean are closely intervoven with humen culture and coevolved with human land management.

Examples of tree-crop landscapes in the Mediterranean Basin: cork, chestnut and olive.
(Pictures: cork and olive from Tobias Plieninger; chestnut from Johannes Schantl)

In times of global challenges such as biodiversity loss, climate change and soil degradation there is a urgent call for sustainable landscape management. Tree crop landscapes are known for having high potential as a sustainable alternative for the current landuse. Much can be learnt of the history of tree crop landscapes, their evolution as well as the driving forces behind.

We studied the history of 9 tree crop landscapes in the Mediterranean, namely three cork oak landscapes (Alentejo, Portugal; Kromerie-Mogod mountains, Tunisia; Extremadura, Spain), three chestnut landscapes (Corsica, France; Apennines, Italy; Aegean, Turkey) and three olive landscapes (Lesvos, Greece; Baena, Spain; Rif-region, Morocco).

We found common patterns such as an acceleration of landscape change dynamic and an trend from the use of multifunctional values towards a mono-causal use of the landscapes. Besides the commonalities, each landscape revealed its exciting history of change, each with its individual evolution, tightly intervoven with human culture. We categorized the processes of change into expanison, continuity, polarisation, intensification, abandonment and renaissance, which is depicted in the following graph.

Historical periods of the nine tree-crop landscapes from 1800 until the present day.

The landscape change was driven by diverse and interrelated forces. We found socio-cultural, political, technical, economic and natural factors as driving forces. We derived some key lessons for sustainable landscape management, including the need for incentives for the management of multifunctional tree crop landscapes as a key for sustainable landscape management.

View the full paper here.