Landscape structure and land use in the Greater and Lesser Caucasus of Georgia: Impacts of societal change and potentials for sustainable development
In two Georgian high-mountain landscapes, Kazbegi in the Greater and Bakuriani in the Lesser Caucasus, the land use and the structural diversity of the cultural landscape have been investigated in three studies. Along steep altitudinal gradients a variety of mountain biotopes and habitats of open lands and forests are located in these landscapes. ... Land use and landscape structure is substantially influenced by local small-scaled subsistence farming with low number of cattle and small parcels of cultivated land for vegetable cultivation and haymaking. In both regions, agriculture is practiced on low-yielding marginal locations due to climate conditions in the high mountains. The large number of heated glasshouses for vegetable cultivation in the Kazbgei region is an example to tackle the difficult high-mountain farming conditions in an energy-intensive way. Both study regions are also subject to consequences of the countrywide political and economic restructuring since Georgian independence in 1991. On the one hand, urban regions are suffering by outmigration of the population, especially by the youth, with adverse consequences for the agriculturally used land and therefore for the landscape structure and biodiversity. On the other hand, since the 2010ies the tourism begins to flourish in both regions, with increasing employment possibilities for the population in the tourism sector. In the field of tension between the two opposing developments, the synthesis´ investigations focus on three different focal points. However, the land-use pattern and the structural diversity of high mountain cultural landscapes are always the heart and the linkage of research and evaluation. First, for the Bakuriani region in the Lesser Caucasus the land-use pattern and forest structure have been investigated. In this Lesser Caucasus study area forest is the dominating land cover. Considering this, the naturalness of the diverse mountain forest types were analyzed along altitudinal belts. These forests were characterized by a high degree of naturalness and a traditional silvo-cultural land-use system of forest pastures and forest meadows. Second, for the Kazbegi region in the Greater Caucasus the land-use change from 1987 to 2015 have been analyzed and quantified in consideration of societal and structural development. In this study, changes in land use and land cover have been quantified spatially explicit in relation to the distinctive high mountain topography at settlement level. Third, interdisciplinary and sustainable land-use concepts have been developed for the Kazbegi region to promote the profitability of agricultural production while respecting the ecology of the mountain landscape. With ecological and socio-economic parameters and indicators three normative land-use scenarios have been developed to meet sustainable development goals of the UN. These scenarios can help optimizing farm management and the use of inputs in the local agriculture. According to the described studies and in comparison to various scientific concepts like the multifunctionality of landscapes, ecosystem services, the concept of hemeroby, and ‘One Health’, the landscape structure and the pattern of land use in both regions were studied and evaluated. Landscape structure today is still characterized by traditional agricultural land use adapted to high mountain conditions. However, in both study regions the retreat of agriculture is evident, indicated by increasing shrubification and reforestation. Non-intensive high-mountain farming that is adapted to the diverse topography with a small-scaled pattern of various climatic conditions shall be decisive, i.e. beneficial and preserving, for an exceptional high mountain biodiversity. The agricultural cultivation of the mountain landscape is a formative factor for biodiversity and species protection in both regions. Additionally, it also shapes the landscape in the sense that it is currently gaining in national and international tourist appeal. The importance of the two core issues mentioned above, high mountain biodiversity and tourism, has been recognised by politicians in the recent past and various protection measures and support actions have been formulated and established.