The Latent Relationship Between Soil Vulnerability to Degradation and Land Fragmentation: A Statistical Analysis of Landscape Metrics in Italy, 1960–2010

  • Daniela Smiraglia
  • Ilaria TomboliniEmail author
  • Loredana Canfora
  • Sofia Bajocco
  • Luigi Perini
  • Luca Salvati


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.


Landscape 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.


  1. Antrop M (2004) Landscape change and the urbanization process in Europe. Landsc Urban Plan 67(1):9–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bakr N, Weindorf DC, Bahnassy MH, El-Badawi MM (2012) Multi-temporal assessment of land sensitivity to desertification in a fragile agro-ecosystem: environmental indicators. Ecol Indic 15(1):271–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barrico L, Castro P (2016) Urban biodiversity and cities’ sustainable development. In: Castro P., Azeiteiro U., Bacelar-Nicolau P., Leal Filho W., Azul A. (eds) Biodiversity and Education for Sustainable Development. World Sustainability Series. Springer, Cham, pp 29–42Google Scholar
  4. Basso F, Bove E, Dumontet S, Ferrara A, Pisante M, Quaranta G, Taberner M (2000) Evaluating environmental sensitivity at the basin scale through the use of geographic information systems and remotely sensed data: an example covering the Agri basin (Southern Italy). Catena 40(1):19–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bajocco S, Salvati L, Ricotta C (2011) Land degradation versus fire: a spiral process? Prog Phys Geogr 35(1):3–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bajocco S, De Angelis A, Salvati L (2012) A satellite-based green index as a proxy for vegetation cover quality in a Mediterranean region. Ecol Indic 23:578–587CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bennett, A.F. (1999) Linkages in the Landscape: The Role of Corridors and Connectivity in Wildlife Conservation. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UKGoogle Scholar
  8. Biasi R, Brunori E, Smiraglia D, Salvati L (2015) Linking traditional tree-crop landscapes and agro-biodiversity in Central Italy using a database of typical and traditional products: a multiple risk assessment through a data mining analysis. Biodivers Conserv 24(12):3009–3031CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bogaert J, Barima YSS, Mongo LIW, Bamba I, Mama A, Toyi M, Lafortezza R (2011) Forest fragmentation: causes, ecological impacts and implications for landscape management. In: Li C, Lafortezza R, Chen J (eds) Landscape ecology in forest management and conservation. Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag, Beijing, Berlin Heidelberg, p 273–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brunori E, Salvati L, Mancinelli R, Smiraglia D, Biasi R (2017) Multi-temporal land use and cover changing analysis: the environmental impact in Mediterranean area. Int J Sustain Dev World Ecol 24(3):276–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Colantoni A, Ferrara C, Perini L, Salvati L (2015) Assessing trends in climate aridity and vulnerability to soil degradation in Italy. Ecol Indic 48:599–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Di Feliciantonio C, Salvati L (2015) ‘Southern’ alternatives of urban diffusion: investigating settlement characteristics and socio‐economic patterns in three mediterranean regions. Tijdschr Econ Soc Geogr 106(4):453–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Duvernoy I, Zambon I, Sateriano A, Salvati L (2018) Pictures from the other side of the fringe: Urban growth and peri-urban agriculture in a post-industrial city (Toulouse, France). J Rural Stud 57:25–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fan C, Myint S (2014) A comparison of spatial autocorrelation indices and landscape metrics in measuring urban landscape fragmentation. Landsc Urban Plan 121:117–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ferrara A, Salvati L, Sateriano A, Nolè A (2012) Performance evaluation and cost assessment of a key indicator system to monitor desertification vulnerability. Ecol Indic 23:123–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fischer J, Lindenmayer DB (2007) Landscape modification and habitat fragmentation: a synthesis. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 16(3):265–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Forman RTT (1995) Land mosaics: the ecology of landscapes and regions. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Geist HJ, Lambin EF (2004) Dynamic causal patterns of desertification. Bioscience 54(9):817–829CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lambin EF, Geist H (2006) Land-use and land cover change: local processes and global impacts. Springer, HeidelbergGoogle Scholar
  20. Giordano F, Boccone M (2010) Forest fragmentation, urbanization and landscape structure analysis in an area prone to desertification in Sardinia (Italy). Present Environ Sustain Dev 4:113–128Google Scholar
  21. Girvetz EH, Thorne JH, Berry AM, Jaeger JA (2008) Integration of landscape fragmentation analysis into regional planning: a statewide multi-scale case study from California, USA. Landsc Urban Plan 86(3):205–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Haddad NM, Brudvig LA, Clobert J et al. (2015) Habitat fragmentation and its lasting impact on Earth’s ecosystems. Sci Adv 1(2):1–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hill J, Stellmes M, Udelhoven T, Röder A, Sommer S (2008) Mediterranean desertification and land degradation: mapping related land use change syndromes based on satellite observations. Glob Planet Change 64(3):146–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Imeson A (2012) Responses to land degradation from perception to action. In (ed) Wiley & Sons, Desertification, Land Degradation and Sustainability, pp 191–235Google Scholar
  25. Kadović R, Bohajar YAM, Perović V, Simić SB, Todosijević M, Tošić S, Dovezenski U (2016) Land sensitivity analysis of degradation using MEDALUS model: case study of Deliblato sands, Serbia. Arch Environ Prot 42(4):114–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kairis O, Karavitis C, Kounalaki A, Salvati L, Kosmas C (2013) The effect of land management practices on soil erosion and land desertification in an olive grove. Soil Use Manag 29(4):597–606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Karamesouti M, Detsis V, Kounalaki A, Vasiliou P, Salvati L, Kosmas C (2015) Land-use and land degradation processes affecting soil resources: evidence from a traditional mediterranean cropland (Greece). Catena 132:45–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kéfi S, Rietkerk M, Alados CL, Pueyo Y, Papanastasis VP, ElAich A, De Ruiter PC (2007) Spatial vegetation patterns and imminent desertification in Mediterranean arid ecosystems. Nature 449(7159):213–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kelly C, Ferrara A, Wilson GA, Ripullone F, Nolè A, Harmer N, Salvati L (2015) Community resilience and land degradation in forest and shrubland socio-ecological systems: evidence from Gorgoglione, Basilicata, Italy. Land Use Policy 46:11–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kosmas C, Karamesouti M, Kounalaki K, Detsis V, Vassiliou P, Salvati L (2016) Land degradation and long-term changes in agro-pastoral systems: an empirical analysis of ecological resilience in Asteroussia-Crete (Greece). Catena 147:196–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kosmas C, Gerontidis S, Marathianou M (2000) The effect of land use change on soils and vegetation over various lithological formations on Lesvos (Greece). Catena 40(1):51–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kosmas C., Kirkby M., Geeson N. (1999) The MEDALUS project. Mediterranean Desertification and land use. Manual on key indicators of Desertification and mapping environmentally sensitive areas to desertification. EUR 18882, Bruxelles, BelgiumGoogle Scholar
  33. Lambin EF, Turner II BL, Geist HJ, Agbola SB, Angelsen A, Bruce JW, Coomes OT, Dirzo R, Fischer G, Folke C, George PS, Homewood K, Imbernon J, Leemans R, Li X, Moran EF, Mortimore M, Ramakrishnan PS, Richards JF, Skånes H, Steffen W, Stone GD, Svedin U, Veldkamp A, Vogel C, Xu J (2001) The causes of land-use and land-cover change: moving beyond myths. Glob Environ Change 11:261–269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lin Y, Han G, Zhao M, Chang SX (2010) Spatial vegetation patterns as early signs of desertification: a case study of a desert steppe in inner Mongolia, China. Landsc Ecol 25(10):1519–1527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Llausàs A, Nogué J (2012) Indicators of landscape fragmentation: the case for combining ecological indices and the perceptive approach. Ecol Indic 15(1):85–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. McGarigal K, Cushman SA, Ene E (2012) FRAGSTATS v4: spatial pattern analysis program for categorical and continuous maps. Computer software program produced by the a uthors at the University of Massachus etts, Amherst,
  37. Montanarella L (2007) Trends in land degradation in Europe. In (ed) Springer Berlin Heidelberg, Climate and Land Degradation pp 83–104Google Scholar
  38. Nagendra H, Munroe DK, Southworth J (2004) From pattern to process: landscape fragmentation and the analysis of land use/land cover change. Agric Ecosyst Environ 101(2):111–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Recanatesi F, Clemente M, Grigoriadis E, Ranalli F, Zitti M, Salvati L (2015) A fifty-year sustainability assessment of Italian agro-forest districts. Sustainability 8(1):32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Salvati L (2014) Agro-forest landscape and the ‘fringe’ city: a multivariate assessment of land-use changes in a sprawling region and implications for planning. Sci Total Environ 490:715–723CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Salvati L, Bajocco S, Ceccarelli T, Zitti M, Perini L (2011) Towards a process-based evaluation of land vulnerability to soil degradation in Italy. Ecol Indic 11(5):1216–1227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Salvati L, Petitta M, Ceccarelli T, Perini L, Di Battista F, Scarascia MEV (2008) Italy’s renewable water resources as estimated on the basis of the monthly water balance. Irrig Drain 57(5):507–515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Salvati L, Smiraglia D, Bajocco S, Ceccarelli T, Zitti M, Perini L (2014) Map of long-term changes in land sensitivity to degradation of Italy. J Maps 10(1):65–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Salvati L, Smiraglia D, Ceccarelli T, Bajocco S, Perini L (2015) Planning for sustainable agro-forest systems: protected areas and soil degradation hotspots in Italy (1990–2010). Soil Sci Plant Nutr 61(3):404–413CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Salvati L, Zitti M (2005) Land degradation in the Mediterranean basin: linking bio-physical and economic factors into an ecological perspective. Biota – J Biol Ecol 5:67–77Google Scholar
  46. Salvati L, Zitti M, Perini L (2016) Fifty years on: long‐term patterns of land sensitivity to desertification in Italy. Land Degrad Dev 27(2):97–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Schellnhuber HJ, Block A, Cassel-Gintz M, Kropp J, Lammel G, Lass W, Lienenkamp R, Loose C, Lüdeke MKB, Moldenhauer O, Petschel-Held G, Plöchl M, Reusswig F (1997) Syndromes of Global Change. GAIA 6:1–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sklenicka P (2016) Classification of farmland ownership fragmentation as a cause of land degradation: A review on typology, consequences, and remedies. Land Use Policy 57:694–701CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Smiraglia D, Ceccarelli T, Bajocco S, Perini L, Salvati L (2015) Unraveling landscape complexity: land use/land cover changes and landscape pattern dynamics (1954-2008) in an agro-forest region of northern Italy. Environ Manag 56(4):916–932CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Symeonakis E, Calvo-Cases A, Arnau-Rosalen E (2007) Land use change and land degradation in southeastern Mediterranean Spain. Environ Manag 40(1):80–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Thornes, JB (2004) Stability and instability in the management of Mediterranean desertification. In: Wainwright J, Mulligan M (eds), Environmental modelling: finding simplicity in complexity. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK, pp. 303–315Google Scholar
  52. Turner MG (1989) Landscape ecology: the effect of pattern on process. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 20:171–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. UNCCD (1994) Article 2 of the Text of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. http://www.unccdint/Lists/SiteDocumentLibrary/conventionText/conv-engpdf
  54. Vogt JV, Safriel U, Bastin G, Zougmore R, von Maltitz G, Sokona Y, Hill J (2011) Monitoring and assessment of land degradation and desertification: towards new conceptual and integrated approaches. Land Degrad Dev 22(2):150–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Vos W, Meekes H (1999) Trends in European cultural landscape development: perspectives for a sustainable future. Landsc Urban Plan 46(1):3–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Zambon I, Benedetti A, Ferrara C, Salvati L (2018) Soil matters? A multivariate analysis of socioeconomic constraints to urban expansion in Mediterranean Europe. Ecol Econ 146:173–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA)RomeItaly
  2. 2.Department of Architecture and Planning“Sapienza” University of RomeRomeItaly
  3. 3.Council for Agricultural Research and EconomicsCentre for Agriculture and Environment (CREA-AA)RomeItaly
  4. 4.Council for Agricultural Research and EconomicsCentre for Forestry and Wood (CREA-FL)ArezzoItaly

Personalised recommendations