Cultural ecosystem services of mountain regions: Modelling the aesthetic value
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Mountain regions meet an increasing demand for pleasant landscapes, offering many cultural ecosystem services to both their residents and tourists. As a result of global change, land managers and policy makers are faced with changes to this landscape and need efficient evaluation techniques to assess cultural ecosystem services. This study provides a spatially explicit modelling approach to estimating aesthetic landscape values by relating spatial landscape patterns to human perceptions via a photo-based survey. The respondents attributed higher aesthetic values to the Alpine landscape in respect to areas with settlements, infrastructure or intensive agricultural use. The aesthetic value of two study areas in the Central Alps (Stubai Valley, Austria and Vinschgau, Italy) was modelled for 10,215 viewpoints along hiking trails according to current land cover and a scenario considering the spontaneous reforestation of abandoned land. Viewpoints with high aesthetic values were mainly located at high altitude, allowing long vistas, and included views of lakes or glaciers, and the lowest values were for viewpoints close to streets and in narrow valleys with little view. The aesthetic values of the reforestation scenario decreased mainly at higher altitudes, but the whole area was affected, reducing aesthetic value by almost 10% in Stubai Valley and 15% in Vinschgau. Our proposed modelling approach allows the estimation of aesthetic values in spatial and qualitative terms for most viewpoints in the European Alps. The resulting maps can be used as information and the basis for discussion by stakeholders, to support the decision-making process and landscape planning. This paper also discusses the role of mountain farming in preserving an attractive landscape and related cultural values.