A recent study challenges the idea that present-day Pyrenean landscapes are the result of large-scale anthropogenic deforestation and land degradation that occurred during the Middle Ages.
High-resolution (decadal) pollen analysis of sediments from two lakes situated in the lowest (Montcortès) and the highest (Sant Maurici) forests belts of the Iberian Pyrenees showed contrasting dynamics during the Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries).
In Montcortès, Medieval deforestation occurred by 1000 CE but forests recovered by 1500 CE. Present-day landscapes originated after a new Modern Age deforestation (1800 CE) and a new recovery during the industrial revolution (1830 CE onward).
Contrastingly, the Sant Maurici forests were not extensively removed during the Middle Ages and remained dense and healthy until today, showing remarkable resilience. It has been suggested that these forests would have acted as a microrefugium for high-mountain conifer forests.
These results are important to inform forest conservation practices, especially in the identification of tipping points beyond which irreversible regime changes may occur.
Rull, V. & Vegas-Vilarrúbia, T. 2021. Conifer forest dynamics in the Iberian Pyrenees during the Middle Ages. Forests, 12: 1685.