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Avalanche activity and socio-environmental changes leave strong footprints in forested landscapes: a case study in the Vosges medium-high mountain range

  • Florie Giacona (a1) (a2), Nicolas Eckert (a2), Robin Mainieri (a3), Brice Martin (a4), Christophe Corona (a5), Jérôme Lopez-Saez (a1), Jean-Matthieu Monnet (a3), Mohamed Naaim (a2) and Markus Stoffel (a1) (a6) (a7)...

Abstract

The medium-high mountain ranges of Western Europe are undergoing rapid socio-environmental changes. The aim of this study is to show that their landscape can be strongly shaped by the actions of avalanche activity, humans and climate. The study area is the Rothenbachkopf-Rainkopf complex, a site representative of avalanche-prone areas of the Vosges Mountains (France). A geo-historical approach documents regular avalanche activity over more than 200 years on 13 paths. A diachronic analysis of historical maps and photographs demonstrates substantial afforestation (from 60 to 80% of the total surface since 1832). LIDAR data and field surveys highlight the existence of a longitudinal and transversal structure of trees. Hence, the avalanche, human and climate activity footprints are retained by the landscape, which rapidly adapts to these changing drivers. Specifically, the pattern of tree species and heights results from a near equilibrium with regular avalanche activity sometimes disturbed by major avalanches that induce quasi-cyclic changes in the landscape mosaic. The afforestation trend is attributable to profound changes in silvo-pastoral practices, supplemented by the impact of climate change. The wider relevance of the results in relation to the local context is discussed, as well as outlooks that can refine our understanding of this complex system.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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