Over the past centuries, land systems in Italy experienced fundamental shifts, owing to the availability of new energy forms, population surges, and technological progress. The 20th century was characterized by massive productivity increases, accompanied by gradual land abandonment and the return of forest land. We here analyze 120 years of land system change in Italy, applying the human appropriation of net primary production (HANPP) framework, a metric for socio-economic pressures on terrestrial ecosystems. HANPP allows integrating ecological with societal perspectives, by systematically quantifying (a) biomass harvest and (b) the difference between potential productivity of ecosystems and current productivity induced by land use processes, such as land conversion, or land degradation. Besides assessing national trends we calculated HANPP separately for the Italian North and South between 1934 and 2007, in order to scrutinize if high regional discrepancies in terms of natural and socio-economic preconditions translate into diverging land system trajectories. Our results show that national HANPP has been declining from 78% of natural productivity before WWII to 56% in 2007, indicating a declining land -use induced pressure on biomass flows over time. Simultaneously, biomass harvest increased by around 26% due to agricultural intensification, despite shrinking croplands. Although we found a significant difference between the Northern and Southern region in the absolute levels of several land use indicators related to biomass appropriation, the overarching trends of land system change were remarkably similar in both regions. This suggests that underlying drivers of land system change, such as policies aimed at land-use intensification and structural change were equally dominating land system trajectories in the North and South of Italy, not withstanding their socio-ecological divergences.
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Land Use Policy is an international and interdisciplinary journal concerned with the social, economic, political, legal, physical and planning aspects of urban and rural land use. It provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and information from the diverse range of disciplines and interest groups which must be combined to formulate effective land use policies.
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