Land-use history and topographic gradients as driving factors of subalpine Larix decidua forests

Matteo Garbarino, Emanuele Lingua, Peter J. Weisberg, Alessandra Bottero, Fabio Meloni, Renzo Motta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


European larch (Larix decidua Mill.) forests in the Alps are cultural landscapes that have been shaped by humans for centuries through traditional management. Biological and historical data sources were employed, and a multi-scale approach was adopted to capture the influence of factors affecting the structure of these forests. Landscape and stand scale dynamics were analyzed in four watersheds (c. 13,000 ha) of the western and central Italian Alps that have experienced different land-use intensities. Observed landscape changes were generalized using path analyses developed from a common conceptual model. Stand structure and a range of environmental variables were sampled in 203 circular plots, and land use and anthropogenic variables were derived from thematic maps and aerial photographs. We used multivariate statistical analyses (ordination and SEM models) to relate forest structure, anthropogenic influences, land uses, and topography. The most commonly observed land cover transition was an expansion of forests at the expense of open areas. All studied watersheds were dominated by larch forests, but their structure and spatial pattern differed greatly. Anthropogenic variables were less important at Ventina, the least accessible site, but emerged as fundamental to explain stand structure in the other study sites. Complexity of topography and proximity to roads had influenced past human activities mainly in the most accessible sites. Regeneration density was greatest at lower elevations and closer to human settlements. Quantification of the role played by forest harvesting and cattle grazing in past centuries is critical for understanding how global change factors may influence future dynamics of mountain forests in the European Alps and similar cultural landscapes worldwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)805-817
Number of pages13
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments This research was funded by the Lombardy region and Sondrio Province through the ‘‘Programma regionale di ricerca in campo agricolo 2004-2006’’ program and by the Piemonte region and the Parco Naturale Regional Alpe Veglia e Alpe Devero through the ‘‘Misura I7 PSR 2006’’ program. We would like to thank Emanuele Sibona for the GIS analyses and Tiziana Stangoni, Edoardo Villa, Camilla Scalabrini, Ivano De Negri, and Floriano Lenatti for logistical support and for providing the archival data. We also thank the Sondrio Province, and Istituto Geografico Militare for providing aerial images and geographic material, and Roberta Berretti, Giuseppe Dolce, Valeria Garbero, and Raffaella Marzano for field assistance.


  • Forest grazing
  • Historical ecology
  • Italian Alps
  • Land-use change
  • Landscape pattern
  • Larix decidua
  • Legacy effects
  • SEMs
  • Stand structure


Dive into the research topics of 'Land-use history and topographic gradients as driving factors of subalpine Larix decidua forests'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this