Cross-border comparison of land cover and landscape pattern in Eastern Europe using a hybrid classification technique


Eastern Europe has experienced drastic changes in political and economic conditions following the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, these changes often differ among neighboring countries. This offers unique possibilities to assess the relative importance of broad-scale political and socioeconomic factors on land cover and landscape pattern. Our question was how much land cover differed in the Polish, the Slovak, and the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains and to what extent these differences can be related to dissimilarities in societal, economic, and political conditions. We used a hybrid classification technique, combining advantages from supervised and unsupervised methods, to derive a land cover map from three Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) and Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) images from 2000. Results showed marked differences in land cover between the three countries. Forest cover and composition was different for the three countries, for example Slovakia and Poland had about 20% more forest cover at higher elevations than Ukraine. Broadleaved forest dominated in Slovakia while high percentages of conifers were found in Poland and Ukraine. Agriculture was most abundant in Slovakia where the lowest level of agricultural fragmentation was found (22% core area compared to less than 5% in Poland and Ukraine). Post-socialist land change was greatest in Ukraine, were we found high agricultural fragmentation and widespread early-successional shrublands indicating extensive land abandonment. Concerning forests, differences can largely be explained by socialist forest management. The abundance and pattern of arable land and grassland can be explained by two factors: land tenure in socialist times and economic transition since 1990. These results suggest that broad-scale socioeconomic and political factors are of major significance for land cover patterns in Eastern Europe, and possibly elsewhere.

Remote Sensing of Environment, 103(4) 449-464
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab