Landscape in motion: revisiting the role of key disturbances in the preservation of mountain ecosystems


  • R.M. Canals Universidad Pública de Navarra



preservation, mountain landscape, disturbance regime, fire, pyric herbivory


The history of the planet is an ever-changing story. Nowadays, managers of the natural environment face the challenge of dealing with a dynamic landscape that is at a turning point due to the global change (climate and land use change) brought about by human actions in recent centuries. This article discusses the traditional concept of conservation of the natural environment, analyses the role played by key disturbances in the functioning and dynamics of ecosystems over time, and offers a new management approach derived from this knowledge. Combined practices of controlled fire and guided grazing (pyric herbivory) as environmental tools for the preservation of valuable mountain ecosystems is justified, as well as the need to consolidate them by combining traditional expertise with scientific and technical knowledge in order to maximize their positive effects and minimize the potential negative impacts on the natural environment.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

R.M. Canals, Universidad Pública de Navarra

Departamento ABA



Archer, S., Davies, K., Fullbright, T., McDaniel, K., Wilcox, B. Predick, K. 2011. Brush Management as a Rangeland Conservation Strategy: A Critical Evaluation. Conservation Benefits of Rangeland Practices: Assessment, Recommendations, and Knowledge Gaps. United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service, pp. 105-170.

Ascoli, D., Bovio, G. 2013. Prescribed burning in Italy: issues, advances and challenges. iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry 6, 79-89.

Bowman, D., Balch, J., Artaxo, P., Bond, W.J., Cochrane, M.A., D'Antonio, C.M., DeFries, R., Johnston, F.H., Keeley, J.E., Krawchuk, M.A., Kull, C.A., Mack, M., Moritz, M.A., Pyne, S., Roos, CI., Scott, A.C., Sodhi, N.S., Swetnam, T.W. 2011. The human dimension of fire regimes on Earth. Journal of Biogeography 38, 2223-2236.

Brang, P., Spathelf, P., Larsen, J.B., Bauhus, J., Boncina, A., Chauvin, C., Drossler, L., Garcia-Guemes, C., Heiri, C., Kerr, G., Lexer, M.J., Mason, B., Mohren, F., Muhlethaler, U., Nocentini, S., Svoboda, M. 2014. Suitability of close-to-nature silviculture for adapting temperate European forests to climate change. Forestry 87: 492-503.

Briske, D.D., Hendrickson, J.R. 1998. Does selective defoliation mediate competitive interactions in a semiarid savanna? A demographic evaluation. Journal of Vegetation Science 9, 611-622.

Bruce, M. 2010. Fire use practices for habitat and wildlife management in Scotland and the UK with a case study from Glen Tanar Estate. In: C. Montiel (Ed.), Best practices of fire use. Prescribed burning and supression fire programmes in selected case studies regions. European Forest Institute, Finland.

Camarero, J., Gutiérrez, E. 2004. Pace and pattern of recent treeline dynamics: Response of ecotones to climatic variability in the Spanish Pyrenees. Climatic Change 63, 181-200.

Canals, R.M. 2016. El fuego en el paisaje: aprendiendo del pasado para gestionar el futuro. In: J. Blanco (Ed.), Usando la biomasa forestal como una fuente de energía sostenible, Pamplona, 208 pp.

Catry, F., Rego, F., Silva, J., Moreira, F., Camia, A., Ricotta, C., Conedera, M. 2010. Fire starts and human activities. In: J. Sande, F. Rego, P. Fernandes, E. Rigolot (Eds.), Towards integrated fire management. Outcomes of the European Project Fire Paradox. European Forest Institute, Finland, pp. 9-22.

Christensen, H. 2012. Mammalian adaptation to herbivory in the aftermath of the KT extinction. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Christensen, N.L. 1985. Shrubland fire regimes and their evolutionary consequences. The ecology of natural disturbance and patch dynamics, pp. 85-100.

Chuvieco, E., Giglio, L., Justice, C. 2008. Global characterization of fire activity: toward defining fire regimes from Earth observation data. Global Change Biology 14, 1488-1502.

Clements, F. 1936. Nature and structure of the climax. Journal of Ecology 24, 252-284.

Conedera, M., Tinner, W., Neff, C., Meurer, M., Dickens, A., Krebs, P. 2009. Reconstructing past fire regimes: methods, applications, and relevance to fire management and conservation. Quaternary Science Reviews 28, 555-576.

Costa, P., Castellnou, M., Larrañaga, A., Miralles, M., Kraus, D. 2012. La prevención de los grandes incendios forestales adaptada al incendio tipo. Pau Costa Foundation-Issuu Fresh Publication.

Coughlan, M. 2014. Farmers, flames, and forests: Historical ecology of pastoral fire use and landscape change in the French Western Pyrenees, 1830-2011. Forest Ecology and Management 312, 55-66.

Davies, M.G., Gray, A., Hamilton, A., Legg, C.J. 2008. The future of fire management in the British uplands. International Journal of Biodiversity Science & Management 4, 127-147.

Fuhlendorf, S.D., Engle, D., Elmore, R., Limb, R., Bidwell, T. 2012. Conservation of Pattern and Process: Developing an Alternative Paradigm of Rangeland Management. Rangeland Ecology & Management 65, 579-589.

Fuhlendorf, S.D., Engle, D., Kerby, J., Hamilton, R. 2009. Pyric Herbivory: Rewilding Landscapes through the Recoupling of Fire and Grazing. Conservation Biology 23, 588-598.

Fuhlendorf, S.D., Briske, D.D., Smeins, F.E. 2001. Herbaceous vegetation change in variable rangeland environments: The relative contribution of grazing and climatic variability. Applied Vegetation Science 4, 177-188.

Galop, D., Catto, N. 2014. Environmental history of European high mountains. Quaternary International 353, 1-2.

Galop, D., Houet, T., Mazier, F., Leroux, G., Rius, D. 2011. Grazing activities and biodiversity history in the Pyrenees: new insights on high altitude ecosystems in the framework of a Human-environment observatory. PAGES News 19, 53-55.

Ganteaume, A., Camia, A., Jappiot, M., San Miguel-Ayanz, J., Long-Fournel, M., Lampin, C. 2013. A Review of the Main Driving Factors of Forest Fire Ignition Over Europe. Environmental Management 51, 651-662.

García-Ruiz, J., Lasanta, T., Ruiz-Flaño, P., Ortigosa, L., White, S., González, C., Martí, C. 1996. Land-use changes and sustainable development in mountain areas: A case study in the Spanish Pyrenees. Landscape Ecology 11, 267-277.

Gassiot, E., Rodríguez, D., Pèlachs, A., Pérez, R., Julià, R., Bla-Serin, M., Mazzucco, N. 2014. La alta montaña durante la Prehistoria: 10 años de investigación en el Pirineo catalán occidental. Trabajos de Prehistoria 71 (2), 261-281.

Gil-Romera, G., González-Sampériz, P., Lasheras-Álvarez, L., Sevilla-Callejo, M., Moreno, A., Valero-Garcés, B., López-Merino, L., Carrión, J.S., Pérez-Sanz, A., Aranbarri, J., García-Prieto Fronce, E. 2014. Biomass-modulated fire dynamics during the last glacial-interglacial transition at the central Pyrenees (Spain). Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatoolgy Palaeoecology 402, 113-124.

González-Sampériz, P., Arambarri, J., Pérez-Sanz, A., Gil-Romera, G., Moreno, A., Leunda, M., Sevilla-Callejo, M., Corella, J.P., Morellón, M., Oliva, B., Valero-Garcés, B. 2017. Environmental and climate change in the southern Central pyrenees since the Last Glacial Maximum: a view from the lake records. Catena 149, 668-688.

Halme, P., Allen, K., Aunins, A., Bradshaw, R., Brumelis, G., Cada, V., Clear, J., Eriksson, A., Hannon, G., Hyvarinen, E., Ikauniece, S., Irsenaite, R., Jonsson, B., Junninen, K., Kareksela, S., Komonen, A., Kotiaho, J., Kouki, J., Kuuluvainen, T., Mazziotta, A., Monkkonen, M., Nyholm, K., Olden, A., Shorohova, E., Strange, N., Toivanen, T., Vanha-Majamaa, I., Wallenius, T., Ylisirnio, A., Zin, E. 2013. Challenges of ecological restoration: Lessons from forests in northern Europe. Biological Conservation 167, 248-256.

Hochtl, F., Lehringer, S., Konold, W. 2005. Wilderness: what it means when it becomes a reality - a case study from the southwestern Alps. Landscape and Urban Planning 70, 85-95.

Hofmann, R. 1989. Evolutionary steps of ecophysiological adaptation and diversification of ruminants. A comparative vies of their digestive system. Oecologia 78, 443-457.

Keeley, J., Pausas, J., Rundel, P., Bond, W., Bradstock, R. 2011. Fire as an evolutionary pressure shaping plant traits. Trends in Plant Science 16, 406-411.

Komac, B., Kefi, S., Nuche, P., Escos, J., Alados, C. 2013. Modeling shrub encroachment in subalpine grasslands under different environmental and management scenarios. Journal of Environmental Management 121, 160-169.

Krebs, P., Pezzatti, G., Mazzoleni, S., Talbot, L., Conedera, M. 2010. Fire regime: history and definition of a key concept in disturbance ecology. Theory in Biosciences 129, 53-69.

Lasanta, T., Nadal-Romero, E., Arnáez, J. 2015. Managing abandoned farmland to control the impact of re-vegetation on the environment. The state of the art in Europe. Environmental Science & Policy 52, 99-109.

Lázaro, A., Montiel, C. 2010. Overview of prescribed burning policies and practices in Europe and other countries. In: J. Dande, F. Rego, P. Fernandes, E. Rigolot (Eds.), Towards integrated fire management. Outcomes of the European Project Fire Paradox. European Forest Institute, Finland, pp. 137-150.

Legg, C., Bruce, M., Davies, M. 2006. Country report for the United Kingdom. International Forest Fire News 34, pp. 94-98.

Lespinas, F., Ludwig, W., Heussner, S. 2010. Impact of recent climate change on the hydrology of coastal Mediterranean rivers in Southern France. Climatic Change 99, 425-456.

Leys, B., Carcaillet, C. 2016. Subalpine fires: the roles of vegetation, climate and, ultimately, land uses. Climatic Change 135, 683-697.

Lindner, M., Maroschek, M., Netherer, S., Kremer, A., Barbati, A., García-Gonzalo, J., Seidl, R., Delzon, S., Corona, P., Kolstrom, M., Lexer, M., Marchetti, M. 2010. Climate change impacts, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability of European forest ecosystems. Forest Ecology and Management 259, 698-709.

López-Moreno, J.I., Beniston, M., García-Ruiz, J. 2008. Environmental change and water management in the Pyrenees: Facts and future perspectives for Mediterranean mountains. Global and Planetary Change 61, 300-312.

Marlon, J.R., Bartlein, P.J., Carcaillet, C., Gavin, D.G., Harrison, S.P., Higuera, P.E., Joos, F., Power, M.J., Prentice, I.C. 2008. Climate and human influences on global biomass burning over the past two millennia. Nature Geoscience 1, 697-702.

Miras, Y., Ejarque, A., Orengo, H., Mora, S.R., Palet, J.M., Poiraud, A. 2010. Prehistoric impact on landscape and vegetation at high altitudes: an integrated paleoecological and archaeological approach in the eastern Pyrenees (Perafita valley, Andorra). Plant Biosystems 144, 924-939.

Montiel, C. (Coord.) 2013. Presencia histórica del fuego en el territorio. Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente. Gobierno de España, Madrid.

Montiel, C., Kraus, D. (Ed.) 2010. Best practices of fire use - Prescribed burning and suppression fire programmes in selected case-study regions in Europe. European Forest Institute Research Report n. 24, 170 pp.

Múgica, L., Canals, R., San Emeterio, L. 2018. Changes in soil nitrogen dynamics caused by prescribed fires in dense gorse lands in SW Pyrenees. Science of Total Environment 639, 175-185.

Navarro, L., Proença, V., Kaplan, J., Pereira, H. 2015. Maintaining disturbance-dependent habitats. Rewilding European Landscapes. In: H. Pereira, L. Navarro (Eds.), Rewilding European Landscapes.

Springer International Publishing, pp. 143-167. .

Pauchard, A., Kueffer, C., Dietz, H., Daehler, C., Alexander, J., Edwards, P., Arévalo, J., Cavieres, L., Guisan, A., Haider, S., Jakobs, G., McDougall, K., Millar, C., Naylor, B., Parks, C., Rew, L., Seipel, T. 2009. Ain't no mountain high enough: plant invasions reaching new elevations. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 7, 479-486.

Pausas J. 2012. Los incendios forestales. CSIC-Catarata, Madrid.

Pausas J., Keeley, J. 2009. A Burning Story: The Role of Fire in the History of Life. Bioscience 59, 593-601.

Pausas, J., Pratt, R., Keeley, J., Jacobsen, A., Ramírez, A., Vilagrosa, A., Paula, S., Kaneakua-Pia, I., Davis, S. 2016. Towards understanding resprouting at the global scale. New Phytologist 209, 945-954.

Pérez-Díaz, S., López-Saez, J., Galop, D. 2015. Vegetation dynamics and human activity in the Western Pyrenean Region during the Holocene. Quaternary International 364, 65-77.

Pickett, S., White, P. 1985. The ecology of natural disturbance and patch dynamics. Academic Press, California. EUA.

Pyne, S.J. 2001. Fire: A Brief History. British Museum Press.

Rius, D., Vanniere, B., Galop, D. 2012. Holocene history of fire, vegetation and land use from the central Pyrenees (France). Quaternary Research 77, 54-64.

San Emeterio, L., Múgica, L., Ugarte, M.D., Goicoa, T., Canals, R.M. 2016. Sustainability of traditional pastoral fires in highlands under global change: Effects on soil function and nutrient cycling. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 235, 155-163.

San Miguel-Ayanz, J., Moreno, J., Camia, A. 2013. Analysis of large fires in European Mediterranean landscapes: Lessons learned and perspectives. Forest Ecology and Management 294, 11-22.

Scott, A., Bowman, D.M.J.S., Bond, W.J., Pyne, S.J., Alexander, M.E. 2014. Fire on Earth: An introduction. Wiley-Blackwell, UK.

Silva, J.S., Rego, F.C., Fernandes, P., Rigolot, E. (Eds.) 2010. Towards integrated fire management. Outcomes of the European Project Fire Paradox. European Forest Institute Research Report n. 23.

Suding, K., Gross, K., Houseman, G. 2004. Alternative states and positive feedbacks in restoration ecology. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 19, 46-53.

Suding, K.N., Hobbs, R.J. 2009. Threshold models in restoration and conservation: a developing framework. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 24, 271-279.

Svenning, J. 2002. A review of natural vegetation openness in north-western Europe. Biological Conservation 104, 133-148.

Thompson, I. 2011. Biodiversidad, umbrales ecosistémicos, resiliencia y degradación forestal. Unasylva 238 (62), 25-30.

Twidwell, D., Fuhlendorf, S., Taylor, C., Rogers, W. 2013. Refining thresholds in coupled fire-vegetation models to improve management of encroaching woody plants in grasslands. Journal of Applied Ecology 50, 603-613.

Valese, E., Conedera, M., Held, A.C., Ascoli, D. 2014. Fire, humans and landscape in the European Alpine region during the Holocene. Anthropocene 6, 63-74.

Vera, F. 2000. Grazing ecology and forest history. CABI Publishing, Oxon, UK.

Vicente-Serrano, S., Lasanta, T., Romo, A. 2004. Analysis of spatial and temporal evolution of vegetation cover in the spanish central pyrenees: Role of human management. Environmental Management 34, 802-818.

Viedma, O., Moity, N., Moreno, J. 2015. Changes in landscape fire-hazard during the second half of the 20th century: Agriculture abandonment and the changing role of driving factors. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment, 207,126-140.

Vélez, R. 2010. Prescribed burning for grazing improvement and fire social prevention: the Spanish EPRIF Programme. In: C. Montiel (Ed.), Best practices of fire use. Prescribed burning and supression fire programmes in selected case studies regions. European Forest Institute, Finland.




How to Cite

Canals R. Landscape in motion: revisiting the role of key disturbances in the preservation of mountain ecosystems. CIG [Internet]. 2019 Sep. 4 [cited 2023 May 28];45(2):515-31. Available from: