Rural–urban gradients offer an appropriate ecological framework for understanding relevant social issues to sustainability and policy planning. We tested the hypothesis that human population growth rate at a local scale is indirectly driven by spatial and rurality gradients, which can be applied to cultural landscapes in Mediterranean Europe. The whole of local administrative/spatial units of Spain—8125 municipalities—, previously classified into five categories along a rural–urban gradient, was used as a case study. Several geospatial patterns and associations among local average per capita population growth rate, population mean age, road accessibility, and other environmental and landscape variables linked to rurality gradients were identified by means of geographic information system (GIS) and multivariate statistics. Regression analysis was used to assess the relationship between population size changes through time and other demographic and territorial variables. Population growth rate was associated with road accessibility and rurality gradient, supporting the established hypothesis. Short-term population growth or decline was directly driven by population mean age. A visual hypothesized model of local population growth rate based on empirical evidence is presented. The results are useful for decision-makers, from local land management interventions to developing strategies and policies to address the demographic challenge.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited