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Working with or against multifunctional landscapes? A case study of land users’ local knowledge of grassland–forest transition zones in northeastern Germany

Henrike Schümann, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF)
Andrea Knierim, Communication and Advisory Services in Rural Areas, Institute of Social Sciences in Agriculture, University of Hohenheim
Sonoko D. Bellingrath-Kimura, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF); Albrecht Daniel Thaer-Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences, Humboldt University, Berlin
Maria Kernecker, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF)


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Maintaining or restoring landscape multifunctionality is essential to ensuring that landscapes provide a broad array of services. Increased multifunctionality means that there are more diverse land uses bordering each other. The areas in which land uses interact are transition zones; those between grasslands and forests could fulfill multiple purposes due to their special ecological characteristics that support the needs of diverse species. However, with their management practices, local land users often shape the characteristics of land-use transition zones, with implications for ecological processes that build the base for service provision. Local ecological knowledge of land users could give important insights into the basis of their decisions. Here, we explore how land users’ and farmers’ local knowledge shapes their management that contributes to the maintenance and restoration of multifunctional landscapes. We conducted 21 semistructured qualitative interviews with livestock farmers and local experts for agriculture and nature conservation using grassland–forest transition zones as a specific example for interdependent components of multifunctional landscapes. We found that local knowledge of the interviewed farmers can contribute to the maintenance or restoration of multifunctional landscapes in several ways: it provides insight into landscape functions in grassland–forest transition zones, it enables land users to use landscape function-grassland production synergies, and it provides insight into the perceived negative and positive contributions of forests to grassland production. The perceived negative contributions of forests to grassland production were an important driver for farmers’ management decisions. Farmers have a holistic view of both the field and the landscape. Managing landscapes for multifunctionality is dependent on this kind of holistic knowledge to identify synergies and trade-offs in landscape functions and how they contribute to agricultural production. However, current regulations such as the institutional separation of grassland and forest and grassland area-dependent direct payments prevent farmers from acting according to their local knowledge.

Key words

actionable knowledge; collaborative landscape management; forest management; grassland management; human–wildlife coexistence; knowledge coproduction; landscape functions; local ecological knowledge; scientific ecological knowledge; stakeholder perceptions

Copyright © 2022 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087