Changes in forest landscape patterns resulting from recent afforestation in Europe (1990–2012): defragmentation of pre-existing forest versus new patch proliferation

Key message Recent afforestation in Europe might involve deep changes on landscape composition and configuration. We show that afforestation promotes defragmentation of pre-existing forests and new patch proliferation, in forest-dominated and non-forest-dominated landscapes respectively, while it is not associated to decreasing landscape diversity. These processes are modulated by geographic factors and might affect functional connectivity and biodiversity conservation in newly forested landscapes.


Context A recent forest increase in Europe might drive changes in the landscape pattern, with increasing forest defragmentation and connectivity but decreasing land cover diversity that, in turn, might affect biodiversity conservation. However, little is known about these patterns of change and their association with the environmental context.
Aims To explore the association of forest cover increase with changes in the spatial pattern of European landscapes, while considering their original landscape composition, geographical position and elevation.
Methods We obtained data from ESA and GFC land cover maps and other GIS layers and performed a set of GLM on randomly selected 752 landscapes with recent (1990–2012) forest increase.
Results A decrease in landscape diversity in the last decades was not associated to forest increase but to high cropland and low scrub-grassland cover. A forest increase promoted the defragmentation of already-existing forests and new patch proliferation in forest-dominated and non-dominated landscapes, respectively. These processes also depend on elevation and geographical position, with forest defragmentation concentrated in Northern and Eastern Europe and new patch proliferation in southern and western regions, and in mid-elevation areas.
Conclusion Changes in afforested landscapes are more complex than expected and cannot be solely attributable to forest increase, but also to landscape composition and location across elevation and geographical gradients across Europe.

Forest transition, Forest spatial pattern, Land cover change, Landscape diversity, Landscape metrics

Palmero-Iniesta, M., Espelta, J.M., Gordillo, J. et al. Changes in forest landscape patterns resulting from recent afforestation in Europe (1990–2012): defragmentation of pre-existing forest versus new patch proliferation. Annals of Forest Science 77, 43 (2020).

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Data availability
The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available in the Mendeley repository,

Topical Collection
Establishment of second-growth forests in human landscapes: ecological mechanisms and genetic consequences

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