Traditional farming landscapes in the temperate zone that have persisted for millennia can be exceptionally species-rich and are therefore key conservation targets. In contrast to Europe’s West, Eastern Europe harbours widespread traditional farming landscapes, but drastic socio-economic and political changes in the twentieth century are likely to have impacted these landscapes profoundly. We reconstructed long-term land-use/cover and biodiversity changes over the last 150 years in a traditional farming landscape of outstanding species diversity in Transylvania. We used the Regional Estimates of Vegetation Abundance from Large Sites model applied to a pollen record from the Transylvanian Plain and a suite of historical and satellite-based maps. We documented widespread changes in the extent and location of grassland and cropland, a loss of wood pastures as well as a gradual increase in forest extent. Land management in the socialist period (1947–1989) led to grassland expansion, but grassland diversity decreased due to intensive production. Land-use intensity has declined since the collapse of socialism in 1989, resulting in widespread cropland abandonment and conversion to grassland. However, these trends may be temporary due to both ongoing woody encroachment as well as grassland management intensification in productive areas. Remarkably, only 8% of all grasslands existed throughout the entire time period (1860–2010), highlighting the importance of land-use history when identifying target areas for conservation, given that old-growth grasslands are most valuable in terms of biodiversity. Combining datasets from different disciplines can yield important additional insights into dynamic landscape and biodiversity changes, informing conservation actions to maintain these species-rich landscapes in the longer term.
- Miljö- och naturvårdsvetenskap