Historical Land Uses and Their Changes in the European Alps
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The Alps are the highest and largest mountain range in Europe. They extend from the Ligurian Sea to the Pannonian Basin in an arc 744 miles (1,200 km) long and between 93 and 155 miles (150–250 km) wide. The settlement history of this large European landscape is closely linked to the settlement of Europe as a whole, whereby the inner Alpine region was not permanently settled until around 4500 BCE because of topographical and climatic disadvantages. Dense forest cover initially made it difficult to use large grazing areas, but transhumance gradually developed in the Alpine region when the animals spent their summers high up in the mountains and their winters in the valleys. At about the same time, the Alpine self-sufficiency economy of arable farming and livestock breeding was added, which made permanent settlement possible. However, the most intensive settlement and land reclamation advance took place in the Middle Ages. In the 19th century, industrialization reached the Alpine region a little delayed, and globalization in the middle of the 20th century. This also led to a fundamental change in society. The previous agricultural society was replaced by the service society of the 20th century. Developments since the late 1950s have taken place against the background of developments in the European Union (EU) as a whole, above all the Common Agricultural Policy and the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP), but these developments were and still are influenced by additional agreements specific to the Alps, such as the Alpine Convention, the Alpine Protection Commission (CIPRA), and the Alpine Working Community (Arge Alp). All these factors mean that historical and current development of land use in the Alpine region has been and is always linked to developments in Europe. Many studies on land use in the Alpine region should therefore be seen in this context. Moreover, past land use often has long-lasting legacy effects on ecosystems and their development. Therefore, in this article we deal not only with historical land use but also with current and future developments and their impacts on ecosystem functions and services.