SUMMARY The present study evaluates the vulnerability to soil degradation of four land-use classes (urban areas, cropland, forests and non-forest natural land) during 1960–2010 using the Environmental Sensitive Area Index (ESAI) to verify if forests mitigate the increase of desertification risk in Italy. Results indicate that forests was the class with the lowest level of vulnerability during the whole investigated period and with the growth rate (1960–2010) in the ESAI always below the one observed on a landscape scale. Non-forest natural land showed a moderate increase in the ESAI coupled with a relatively high vulnerability level. The temporal pattern of four indicators (climate, soil, vegetation and land management) composing the ESAI was analyzed to identify the variables which affect the level of vulnerability for each land-use class. Results contributes to the understanding of complex landscape-forest interactions in Mediterranean fragile ecosystems.
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