Patterns and drivers of scattered tree loss in agricultural landscapes: orchard meadows in Germany (1968-2009)


Scattered trees support high levels of farmland biodiversity and ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes, but they are threatened by agricultural intensification, urbanization, and land abandonment. This study aimed to map and quantify the decline of orchard meadows (scattered fruit trees of high nature conservation value) for a region in Southwestern Germany for the 1968 2009 period and to identify the driving forces of this decline. We derived orchard meadow loss from 1968 and 2009 aerial images and used a boosted regression trees modelling framework to assess the relative importance of 18 environmental, demographic, and socio-economic variables to test five alternative hypothesis explaining orchard meadow loss. We found that orchard meadow loss occurred in flatter areas, in areas where smaller plot sizes and fragmented orchard meadows prevailed, and in areas near settlements and infrastructure. The analysis did not confirm that orchard meadow loss was higher in areas where agricultural intensification was stronger and in areas of lower implementation levels of conservation policies. Our results demonstrated that the influential drivers of orchard meadow loss were those that reduce economic profitability and increase opportunity costs for orchards, providing incentives for converting orchard meadows to other, more profitable land uses. These insights could be taken up by local- and regional-level conservation policies to identify the sites of persistent orchard meadows in agricultural landscapes that would be prioritized in conservation efforts.

PLoS One, 10(5) e0126178
Christian Levers
PhD student
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab