Woody plant encroachment following grazing abandonment in the subalpine belt: a case study in northern Spain

  1. Sanjuán, Y. 6
  2. Arnáez, J. 1
  3. Beguería, S. 5
  4. Lana-Renault, N. 1
  5. Lasanta, T. 6
  6. Gómez-Villar, A. 3
  7. Álvarez-Martínez, J. 4
  8. Coba-Pérez, P. 2
  9. García-Ruiz, J.M. 6
  1. 1 Universidad de La Rioja

    Universidad de La Rioja

    Logroño, España

    ROR https://ror.org/0553yr311

  2. 2 Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

    Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

    Ciudad de México, México

    ROR https://ror.org/01tmp8f25

  3. 3 Universidad de León

    Universidad de León

    León, España

    ROR https://ror.org/02tzt0b78

  4. 4 Universidad de Valladolid

    Universidad de Valladolid

    Valladolid, España

    ROR https://ror.org/01fvbaw18

  5. 5 Estación Experimental de Aula Dei

    Estación Experimental de Aula Dei

    Zaragoza, España

    ROR https://ror.org/056a37x91

  6. 6 Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología

    Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología

    Zaragoza, España

    ROR https://ror.org/039ssy097

Regional Environmental Change

ISSN: 1436-3798

Year of publication: 2017

Pages: 1-13

Type: Article

DOI: 10.1007/S10113-017-1245-Y SCOPUS: 2-s2.0-85032899871 GOOGLE SCHOLAR

More publications in: Regional Environmental Change


The montane and subalpine belts in European mountains were affected by intense land use/land cover changes during the twentieth century. In the case of the subalpine belt, most European mountains were affected by complex deforestation processes from Neolithic times, leading to the expansion of summer grasslands to support grazing by transhumant sheep and goats flocks. This resulted in an altitudinal reduction of the tree line and the occurrence of severe soil erosion and shallow landsliding. The intense livestock pressure over centuries explains why the landscape remained without major change until the middle of the twentieth century. Since then, depopulation, land abandonment, and the disappearance of the transhumant system have resulted in a marked decline in livestock numbers and subsequent encroachment of shrubs and trees in the subalpine belt. The Urbión Mountains (Iberian Range, northern Spain) provides one of the clearest examples in the Iberian Peninsula, where there was intense deforestation since the Neolithic period to enlarge the area of subalpine summer grasslands. The recent reversal of this situation in the last decades led to (i) a marked trend to dense forest, which resulted in an average 200 m altitudinal advance, and (ii) the spatial contraction of shrublands, which have been replaced by dense forest in the highest areas. Changes will continue in the future, possibly enhanced by global warming. © 2017 Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany