Expansion of olive orchards and their impact on the cultivation and landscape through a case study in the countryside of Cordoba (Spain)
The sustainability of farming systems has been enhanced by legislation on different scales, but at the same time these policies also promote more productive systems through farming intensification (e.g., use of irrigation or high tree densities). This is the case of olive orchard expansion on cereal cropland in recent decades. This study analyses the impact of this expansion on orchard characteristics and landscape elements in a case study in the ’campiña‘ of Cordoba in Southern Spain based on the evolution of their surface and typologies during the period from 2005 to 2018. Our results show that olive orchards doubled their surface after the 13-year period, from 7997.8 to 16,447.6 ha. On average the new orchards tended to have higher plant density and a more frequent use of irrigation in the study period. Despite this trend towards intensification, the current situation shows a majority of rainfed (76.4%) and medium tree densities, 120–200 trees/ha, (42.7%) of the area. Nevertheless, newly intensified orchards are arising in the region, resulting in a mosaic of orchards of different characteristics (slope, tree density, soil type) and agricultural managements (irrigation, ground cover vegetation).
In addition, this characterization was complemented with an inventory of the existing semi-natural elements associated with these orchards to identify the current state of the regional agricultural landscape. A total number of 507 isolated trees and different linear and polygonal landscape elements (343.9 km and 714.0 ha, respectively), mainly segmented, were inventoried. From these polygonal landscape elements, a significant fraction (e.g., slopes, gullies, water banks and non-productive strips/faces) remains unvegetated (57%). Therefore, these elements must be considered in multiscale agricultural policies as potential restoration areas to enhance ecosystem service provisioning.
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