A consilience-driven approach to land use history in relation to reconstructing forest land use legacies

Scott Mensing, Edward M. Schoolman, Jordan Palli, Gianluca Piovesan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Context: The importance of societal factors in shaping forest area, structure and composition through economic activity, policy, governance, and population changes is frequently acknowledged in ecologic studies, however the specific socioeconomic factors that lead to land use change through time are rarely articulated. Objectives: We present a consilience-driven approach for integrating socioeconomic and paleoecologic data to explore land use legacies and interpret causes of past abrupt environmental change. Methods: We combine paleoecologic history reconstructed from pollen analysis of lake sediments and contemporary historical narratives of socioeconomic change developed from archival sources illustrated by three case studies from two sites in the Italian Apennines. Results: We found that in the Rieti Basin, central Italy, between 850 and 900 AD (coeval with the beginning of the Medieval Climate Anomaly—MCA), under the new Carolingian rule, the imperially sponsored monastery at Farfa consolidated small landholdings, leading to more active land management and significant forest loss for agricultural activities. In contrast, at Pollino in southern Italy between 1050 and 1100 AD, also during the MCA, Norman conquest helped to convert a deforested landscape into an actively managed fir forest for timber needed for construction. At both sites, depopulation and land management between 1350 and 1400 AD caused by the Black Death, led to forest rewilding, however each site took a different trajectory. Conclusions: The studies presented offer examples of how the integration of detailed historical narratives with high-resolution paleoecologic reconstructions can provide a more nuanced examination of the interrelationship between societal factors and climate forcing in shaping land-use legacies and has the capacity to illuminate the link between specific human pressures and pathways of ecological change over many centuries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2645-2658
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the “FISR-MIUR Italian Mountain Lab” project and MIUR (Ministry for Education, University and Research) initiative Department of Excellence (Law 232/2016) to G.P. and National Science Foundation award (GSS-1228126) to SM. We thank Giuseppe De Vivo, Vittoria Marchianò and Aldo Schettino for the support during the coring activity of Lago di Pesce in the Pollino National Park, Irene Tunno for pollen analysis, Leonardo Sagnotti, Fabio Florindo, and Susan Zimmerman for development of the Lago Lungo age model, and Paula Noble and Claire Archer for field assistance.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Nature B.V.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Apennine
  • Forest dynamic
  • Historical ecology
  • Pandemics
  • Pollen analysis
  • Rewilding

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