Landscape Ecology

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 773–789 | Cite as

Spatial sensitivity of species habitat patterns to scenarios of land use change (Switzerland)

  • Janine Bolliger
  • Felix Kienast
  • Reto Soliva
  • Gillian Rutherford
Research article


Long-term societal trends which include decreasing population in structurally poorer regions and changes in agricultural policies have been leading to land abandonment in various regions of Europe. One of the consequences of this development includes spontaneous forest regeneration of formerly open-land habitats with likely significant effects on plant and animal diversity. We assess potential effects of agricultural decline in Switzerland (41,000 km2) and potential impacts on the spatial distribution of seven open-land species (insects, reptile, birds) under land-use change scenarios: (1) a business-as-usual scenario that extrapolates trends observed during the last 15 years into the future, (2) a liberalisation scenario with limited regulation, and (3) a lowered agricultural production scenario fostering conservation. All scenarios were developed in collaboration with socio-economists. Results show that spontaneous reforestation is potentially minor in the lowlands since combinations of socio-economic (better accessibility), topographic (less steep slopes), and climatic factors (longer growing seasons) favour agricultural use and make land abandonment less likely. Land abandonment, spontaneous reforestation, and subsequent loss of open-land, however, are potentially pronounced in mountainous areas except where tourism is a major source of income. Here, socio-economic and natural conditions for cultivation are more difficult, leading to higher abandonment and thus reforestation likelihood. Evaluations for open-land species core habitats indicate pronounced spatial segregation of expected landscape change. Habitat losses (up to 59%) are observed throughout the country, particularly at high elevation sites in the Northern Alps. Habitat gains under the lowered agricultural production scenario range between 12 and 41% and are primarily observed for the Plateau and the Northern Alps.


Agricultural decline Habitat suitability maps Species habitat distribution modelling Scenarios of land use change Switzerland 



Many thanks to the Centre Suisse de Cartographie de la Faune, Neuchâtel (Simon Capt, Yves Gonseth) for their expert advice and for providing the species data. We would also like to thank Thomas Niemz for kindly conducting some of the GIS analyses. This research was supported by the BioScene project funded by the European Union (EVK2-2001-00354).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janine Bolliger
    • 1
  • Felix Kienast
    • 1
  • Reto Soliva
    • 1
  • Gillian Rutherford
    • 1
  1. 1.Swiss Federal Research Institute WSLBirmensdorfSwitzerland

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