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Cultural Landscape Elements

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Here, we focus on the constituents of cultural landscapes: the biotopes and environmental factors that determine them, including man. The major factors besides human activities are climatic, geomorphic (related to landform), edaphic (related to soil), and biotic (related to living organisms). It must be kept in mind that the basic concept of ecology is that many factors act simultaneously and that factors affect one another in a most complex interrelationship. The plants that are affected by environmental factors may react in a way that modifies the environment and thus change the factors themselves (e.g. bogs, forests).


To understand the dynamics of the ever changing plant cover, the concept of vegetation series is used here as a guiding principle. This concept is based upon the assumption that given a certain climate, substratum and history and without man’s influence all vegetation will develop through various steps towards a final phase (climax) remaining in balance with its environment. A vegetation series includes climax vegetation (usually forest) and substitution communities (scrub, grasslands). The series occupies an area in which environmental conditions are homogeneous. The climax (also named Potential Natural Vegetation) is the mature stage of the vegetation series. The development of immature stages to more mature ones is called progression or succession, the inverse regression or degradation. In general you might say that the three major formations namely ‘tree’-land, shrubland and grassland are linked as follows:

  • cutting and burning forests favours shrubland
  • burning, mowing and grazing of shrublands favours grasslands.
In general ecological aspects are explained for each major formation, starting with forests and followed by shrublands, grasslands and agricultural vegetation. Within these formations we can distinguish a multiplicity of biodiversity connected to the characteristic life communities of European cultural landscapes. It would lead too far to go into detail here. We should rather refer to general surveys of European bioclimates and biotopes, e.g.:

We note that the state of the art of knowledge in Europe is still not at a level that a reasonable complete survey can be given. This is rather pathetic, the more so because many of our European cultural landscapes are quickly changing as a result of global socio-economic and climatic developments.

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