In densely populated areas, essential sources of ecosystem services are represented by green infrastructure, which includes trees outside forests (TOF) that, regardless of their cover extension, are found on agricultural or urban land. This research aims to assess landscape preference for TOF along an urban-rural-natural gradient in relation to different levels of landscape heterogeneity. Analyses are based on the integration of a visual choice experiment (360 respondents) with a GIS-based landscape analysis at regional scale in a Mediterranean region in Central Italy. Main findings revealed that correlation between landscape preference and heterogeneity varies along the urban–rural–natural gradient and on the basis of the spatial configuration of the surrounding landscape. The additional value of TOF to landscape preference is closely and positively linked to the degree of landscape anthropization. Conversely, TOF contribution to landscape preference resulted negative in natural landscapes where they can be perceived as a disturbance of the wilderness. Considering the influence that landscape preference plays on cultural ecosystem services provisioning and, in turn, on decision making processes, our results can support landscape policy and planning in fostering or hampering TOF diffusion depending on the different territorial contexts. These findings endorse the importance of multi-functional approaches in future-oriented strategies, which should mediate between the human preference for TOF, their ecological role and the provision of other services.
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