Conifers have been historically favoured for economic reasons in many countries, and there are large areas currently covered by conifer plantations and spontaneously grown forests whose degree of naturalness is difficult to state in some places. This issue has implications for PNV interpretation in some regions like the Iberian Peninsula, where it has become an important topic in the debate (Blanco et al. 1997; Gil 2008; Génova et al. 2009). From the evolutionary point of view, conifers are an ancient group emerging in the late Paleozoic and had their optimal development during the Mesozoic era. Thereafter they were widely replaced by angiosperms (Bond 1989; Coomes et al. 2005) in most of the resource-rich habitats, as angiosperm newcomers were more efficient in exploiting soil nutrients (Berendse & Scheffer 2009). The result is that in modern times conifers mainly occupy habitats or regions that are stressed in terms of climatic (low temperatures) or edaphic (shallow rocky, permanently flooded or nutrient-poor soils) conditions in various territories (Urbieta et al. 2011). This is only a general statement because there are many examples of conifers dominating natural forests in mesophytic environments in different parts of the world, particularly in those areas that have experienced fewer extinctions in recent history (Pleistocene), as is the case of some North American redwood forests (Sequoia, Sequoiadendron). Europe is a continent that experienced the stress of several successive ice ages that caused massive extinctions of tree species, particularly in those taxa adapted to mesic conditions. The contrast between European dendroflora with that of North America or East Asia is overwhelming (Tallis 1991). Specifically, Europe hosts fewer gymnosperm trees than its two homologous regions and so it has fewer conifer species to compete with angiosperms in mesic habitats. However, in comparison with the Eurosiberian region, the Mediterranean region (southern Europe, the Near East and North Africa) is relatively rich in tree species, including conifers, and they certainly have a role in the plant communities of the area. The more carefully we document their population dynamics in the past and the better data we gather about their current dynamics, the more accurately it will be possible to describe their communities, and changes in the consideration of some PNV units have and will be introduced. It is widely accepted that spatial heterogeneity and disturbance regimes favour the co-existence of pines and oaks in Iberian landscapes (Zavala & Zea 2004), and this indicates the need for a further review of the PNV assumptions in many areas. Some researchers are reluctant to accept certain of the proposed PNV models because they are difficult to tally with the suggestions derived from the results of surveys of paleoremains (Carrión 2000). Certainly, historical records have to be carefully taken into account, as we stated unambiguously (Loidi et al. 2010), because the past conditions affect the present status of ecosystems, but the past cannot condition the future in terms such that the current and coming environmental conditions tailor terrestrial ecosystems independently of what happened in the past. The idea that pines have been disregarded in the current documents describing Iberian PNV types has been supported by palynological surveys, but, in relation to this, there are cases in which pollen diagrams show abundant pine pollen even in areas where pines are scarce in the landscape; pine pollen is sometimes overrepresented in sediments and has to be interpreted with caution (Roc et al. 2002). Pollen rain as a representation of extant vegetation is not always very reliable (Vázquez & Peinado 1993). If we examine Tüxen's paper (1956), several pages are devoted to explaining the difference between primitive vegetation and current (heutige) PNV due to changes in environmental conditions caused by human influence or by natural processes since the original vegetation was altered or has disappeared. This means that the historical element is essential in the construction of the idea of PNV for two main reasons: first because of the human disturbances and second because paleoremains show us the biological material (species) existing in a particular area in the past. Such species may or may not survive local extinctions that are happening now or in the past. All these factors explain why existence in the past does not necessarily correspond to suitability in the present day. Although management and tree selection have played a role we should be careful not to exaggerate their contribution. In any case, modern global change means abandonment of large areas in many European countries, particularly in mountainous regions. This has triggered secondary succession in a substantial part of the territory, which has revealed that in a relatively short period of 40–50 yr (after the rural population fled), vegetation develops towards maturity at a faster pace than expected. Perhaps we will not need to wait too long to see good examples of ecosystems changing towards maturity in order to glimpse the final or mature stages of secondary succession in vegetation, and the real impact of natural or human-induced disturbance. The experiment, provided unintentionally by socio-economic changes and inscribed in what we could call ‘abandonment ecology’, is in motion.