Palmero-Iniesta, M.; Espelta, J.M.; Padial-Iglesias, et al. 2021. “The Role of Recent (1985–2014) Patterns of Land Abandonment and Environmental Factors in the Establishment and Growth of Secondary Forests in the Iberian Peninsula”. Land, 10, 817.
Farmland abandonment has been a widespread land-use change in the Iberian Peninsula since the second half of the 20th century, leading to the establishment of secondary forests across the region. In this study, we aimed to address changes in the recent (1985–2014) emergence patterns of these forests and examine how environmental factors affected their growth by considering differences in leaf-habit types. We used a combination of Landsat-derived land-cover maps and aboveground biomass (AGB) maps from the European Space Agency to assess the secondary forest establishment and growth, respectively, in the study region. We also obtained a set of topographic, climatic and landscape variables from diverse GIS layers and used them for determining changes over time in the environmental drivers of forest establishment and AGB using general linear models. The results highlight that secondary forest cover was still increasing in the Iberian Peninsula at a rate above the European average. Yet, they also indicate a directional change in the emergence of secondary forests towards lower and less steep regions with higher water availability (mean rainfall and SPEI) and less forest cover but are subjected to greater drought events. In addition, these environmental factors differentially affect the growth of forests with different leaf-habit types: i.e., needleleaf secondary forests being less favoured by high temperature and precipitation, and broadleaf deciduous forests being most negatively affected by drought. Finally, these spatial patterns of forest emergence and the contrasting responses of forest leaf-habits to environmental factors explained the major development of broadleaf evergreen compared to broadleaf deciduous forests and, especially, needleleaf secondary forests. These results will improve the knowledge of forest dynamics that have occurred in the Iberian Peninsula in recent decades and provide an essential tool for understanding the potential effects of climate warming on secondary forest growth.