The Latent Relationship Between Soil Vulnerability to Degradation and Land Fragmentation: A Statistical Analysis of Landscape Metrics in Italy, 1960–2010
Land degradation leads to almost unpredictable spatial outcomes and environmental dynamics demanding a more integrated monitoring approach. In this framework, we debate on (apparent and latent) connections between land fragmentation and soil degradation by identifying areas with increased levels of soil degradation that underlie distinctive spatial trends of land fragmentation. Moving from land-use maps to an empirical study of desertification, the framework proposed in this work may support environmental monitoring and inform land conservation policies. To assess land fragmentation, a quantitative approach grounded on a comprehensive analysis of landscape metrics available in FRAGSTATS package was illustrated and applied to Italy as a representative case of complex landscape dynamics in the Mediterranean basin. The Environmental Sensitive Area methodology was adopted to monitor the level of soil vulnerability to degradation. Three classes of land vulnerability—unaffected, fragile and critical—were identified and analysed using metrics to investigate possible links between soil degradation and land fragmentation. During the study period (1960–2010), Italy evolved towards a more fragmented landscape, characterised by increasingly smaller and contiguous patches, heterogeneous land-use structures and more irregular patches. We also introduced concepts focusing on syndromes of soil degradation characterised by a variety of attributes that correlate with land fragmentation. The present study makes an important contribution towards an operational system for identifying areas at risk of desertification. Analysis of land fragmentation as a proxy of soil degradation allows the characterisation of general landscape changes and identification of place-specific patterns associated with spatio-temporal dynamics leading to higher risk of desertification.
KeywordsLandscape Desertification ESAI Vulnerability hotspots Italy
This work was supported by the national research project ‘Agroscenari’ financed by the Italian Ministry of Agricultural and Forestry Policies.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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