Final Report Summary - LONGWOOD (Long-term woodland dynamics in Central Europe: from estimations to a realistic model)
The LONGWOOD project was designed as an interdisciplinary venture bridging the divide between the natural sciences and the humanities. It had three basic aims: to create a geodatabase of woodland cover, tree and herb species and management in Moravia in the past 7500 years, to analyse the results in relation to environmental variables and archaeological and social historical data in order to establish the main drivers of stability and change, and to see if the conclusions can be useful in improving approaches currently employed in forestry and nature conservation. We created databases for the individual disciplines, which are interconnected in GIS. The palynological database contains 28 pollen sites with 106 new 14C dates covering the entire Holocene. The archaeological database includes 19,021 archaeological components from 7861 archaeological sites in 1685 parishes from the Mesolithic to the Middle Ages. This database is currently the most complete source of information on prehistoric human activities in the study region. The historical database, which is practically unique in Europe as regards is spatiotemporal scope and resolution, comprises 18,262 entries from 465 different archival sources. These entries contain more than 50,000 pieces of information on the tree species composition, size and management of individual forests from the 11th to the 20th century. The vegetation ecological database contains 2166 resurveyed semi-permanent plots, 600 permanent plots and 168 experimental plots. Based on these data, we described forest ecosystem development in the study region. The project demonstrated that it is possible to produce compatible results on long-term woodland dynamics from very different disciplines (history, archaeology, palaeoecology, vegetation ecology) through quantification and modelling for a larger area in high resolution. In other words, historical ecological research can move beyond qualitative analysis. We also contributed to methodological debates concerning the challenges at the interdisciplinary interface between history and ecology. Analyses showed that people have been important drivers of forest ecosystem stability and change at all spatial and temporal levels from prehistory to the 21st century. Human impact was connected to population dynamics and major social and technological changes influencing land use. The relationship between human societies and forest ecosystems is best described as continuous interaction and coevolution, in which the relative importance of natural and anthropogenic driving factors is hard to disentangle and varies in space and time. Nonetheless, especially our results concerning 20th-century changes in wooded environments demonstrated the positive role traditional management played in maintaining biodiversity. In this sense, the project also fulfilled its most general goal to foster a shift in ecological thinking towards construing humans as internal, constitutive elements in forest ecosystems. We also built good working connections with several local nature conservation bodies (including a national park) with whom we worked out guidelines for environmentally friendly management that will hopefully benefit all stakeholders. We emphasize the importance of retrospective investigations into individual sites and histories for nature conservation and forestry. While results can and do challenge existing notions of species’ native ranges and of natural processes, imitating past conditions (either states or processes through management) may not always lead to the desired consequences. The past can rather serve as baseline knowledge in the changing conditions of the 21st century. We published the results of the project in 34 journal articles and gave 80 presentations mainly at international conferences. Further details about the LONGWOOD project are available at http://www.longwood.cz.