Indigenous livestock breeds as indicators for cultural ecosystem services: A spatial analysis within the Alpine Space
Egarter Vigl L
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Great changes have occurred in livestock management in recent decades that have been due to increased specialization and mechanization. In combination with a strong focus on high-yielding breeds and breeds that mainly offer provisioning ecosystem services, these changes have led to a considerable decline in the diversity of indigenous livestock breeds. The cultural benefits provided by locally adapted breeds and their genetic diversity have mostly been neglected. In this study, we aimed to identify the areas of origin of indigenous domesticated animal breeds in the Alpine Space (European Alps), in order to derive a spatially explicit index representing the breeds’ contribution to cultural heritage and identity. We compiled a database of the breeds of 14 domestic species that included all of the autochthonous breeds of the Alpine Space that could be cross-referenced in multiple sources. By overlaying the areas of origin of each breed with an administrative boundary layer, we derived an area-wide cultural ecosystem services (CES) index. We identified 261 breeds, with breeds of cattle, goats, sheep, and pigeons as the most frequently identified. The spatial distribution of specific breed groups indicated high variability in the Alpine Space. We found that some regions had no local breeds originating from them, whereas others were characterized by high breed diversity; it typically depended on region-specific breeding and extinction history. In terms of CES provision, the highest potential for cultural benefits was observed in the eastern Alps, with regional hotspots in Bavaria (DE), Tyrol (AT), and Salzburg (AT). The Veneto region (IT) also had high CES index values, which was mainly caused by highly diverse poultry breeds. The spatial distribution of CES provision in the Alpine Space highlights the heterogeneous nature of socio-ecological functioning, and contributes to the identification of critical areas of CES supply. It reveals an untapped potential for economic initiatives that involve marketing and labelling unique agricultural products from this region. If the branding of such products was limited to their place of origin, such initiatives could contribute to the long-term conservation of endangered breeds, and, consequently, constitute a promising conservation strategy.