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Keywords:

  • Belarus;
  • Forest continuity;
  • Historical maps;
  • Land-use change;
  • Poland

Abstract

Question

What changes in character and extent of land use have occurred during the last 200 yr in the Białowieża Primeval Forest (BPF)? Are the landscape transformations described from the multi-temporal analysis of historical maps coherent with vegetation changes expressed by the previous palynological analyses?

Location

Białowieża Primeval Forest, Polish–Belarusian border.

Methods

We used five historical maps (from 1793 to 1936) and one digital land-use map (1999–2000) to quantify the landscape changes. Land-use types according to historical maps were digitized and georeferenced. The maps were then used for both comparing the extent of cover types in each time step and analysing the nature of change through transition matrices. The sequence of changes concerning the proportion of land-use types was then compared with classes of pollen, which were assumed to represent corresponding vegetation types.

Results

Most of the area (>70%) has been continuously covered with forest. In the period between 1793 and 1830, the forest declined, being the main donor to agricultural land and villages. In the 20th century, the trend was reversed. We found a significant correlation between the percentage of the main vegetation types derived from historical maps and the corresponding vegetation types, as indicated by pollen, with a mean time lag of 20 yr.

Conclusion

The BPF landscape has been quite stable throughout the last 200 yr, mainly due to the high continuity of forest cover. The results obtained from landscape analysis based on maps are coherent with pollen data collected in the same area.