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The Effects of Isolation and Natural Park Coverage for Landrace In situ Conservation: An Approach from the Montseny Mountains (NE Spain)

Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193, Bellaterra (Barcelona), Spain
Department of Geography, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193, Bellaterra (Barcelona), Spain
Department of Geography, Universitat de Girona, 17071, Girona, Spain
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2013, 5(2), 654-663;
Submission received: 3 January 2013 / Revised: 5 February 2013 / Accepted: 6 February 2013 / Published: 11 February 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Development in Natural Protected Areas)


Human isolation in mountain areas has an extra cost for the people living there, because they occasionally have to face harsh environmental conditions. Such adaptation to the environment can be faced in several ways, and in situ landrace conservation is a proposed strategy that concerns food acquisition and maintenance. However, human isolation could also be affected as a result of residing inside a protected area. In this paper, we assess the correlation between the in situ landraces conserved by farmers and the location of the farms inside or outside of a protected area (Montseny Mountains Biosphere Reserve and Natural Park). The variables of isolation, calculated as the time needed to reach the nearest market and the effect of altitude, were also considered. We interviewed 28 farmers, 12 inside and 16 outside of the protected area, and identified a total of 69 landraces. Those farms located inside the boundaries of the Natural Park retained more landraces than those located outside. There was also a positive and significant correlation between the landraces cultivated and the degree of isolation. The effect of altitude did not appear to be a relevant variable. Finally, a total of 38 landraces were located only on farms inside the Natural Park, 13 were found outside and 18 were cropped in both territories.

1. Introduction

On geological and historical time-scales, the isolation of mountainous regions has functioned as a biological and cultural laboratory. Despite the harsh environmental conditions, human presence in mountain areas has a long history, indeed, millennia for some parts of the world, such as the Mediterranean Basin [1]. Living in mountains has an added cost for the community, due to the complication of acquiring resources when compared with other environments located on lowlands. Therefore, people living in mountains have to adapt to the environment in several ways. Due to the constraints on agriculture or the length of the growing season, one of the strategies for food acquisition and maintenance is in situ landrace conservation. This conservation model is considered interesting under a biodiversity point of view, due to the maintenance of the genetic diversity at the intra- and inter-specific level under a determined set of environmental conditions and the selective constraints of the farmers. In many cases, such landraces are better adapted to tolerate environmental changes [2,3]. The importance of the need for the in situ conservation of crop genetic resources is based on three major arguments [4]. First, maintaining genetic biodiversity to continue the process of crop evolution through the selection of farmer due to in situ selection enhances the crop’s ability to adapt to changing conditions or requirements [2]. Second, adapted crops have a low dependency on input from outside farms, such that in situ conservation is related to yield security and sustainable production [2,5]. Third, in situ conservation ensures the maintenance of cultural information (knowledge and traditions) that might enhance crop productivity [6,7]. In general, the research on landrace in situ conservation has been based on the maintenance of crop genetic diversity in agricultural ecosystems [8] and home gardens [9] or on the value of agricultural diversity as a source of nutrition and health [10]. In contrast, little attention has been focused on the social aspects associated with the in situ conservation of crop genetic resources [4] or on the effects of isolation. Some mountain areas of the Mediterranean region, as in most mountain ranges around the world, represent some of the last refuges from the advance and spread of newer ways of life from the more populated and urbanized lowlands [1]. In some cases, the evolution of urbanization has been halted due the preservation of protected areas, as in the case of the Montseny mountains, which were declared a Natural Park in 1977 and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1978. Thus, the Montseny massif is a good setting to test the effects of human isolation and in situ crop conservation, because there are no villages or small population settlements inside of the Natural Park limits and the people living inside of the Park boundaries live on farms, some of which are isolated from the main villages/cities outside the boundaries of the protected area, including Sant Celoni, Arbúcies, Granollers and Vic.
Home gardens and small estates are the specific target of our study, due to the ability of maintaining plant genetic resources [11]. Moreover, recent studies have identified and characterized 19 ecosystem functions and related services (five regulating services, two habitat/support services, five production services and seven cultural services) of a home garden as a type of agroecosystem [12]. Accordingly, we attempted to correlate the presence of species in situ conserved by peasants living on farms and having home gardens and small developments, with the isolation of the farms calculated by the access time to the main markets and the effect of the altitude. In addition, we evaluated the correlation between the location of a farm inside or outside the boundaries of a protected area.

2. Study Area

The Montseny mountains are located 50 km north-northwest of Barcelona (Catalonia, NE Spain) in a Mediterranean region (longitude 2°16’–2° 33’E, latitude 41°42’–41°52’N) at a minimum distance of only 15 km from the sea and experiences a very definite Mediterranean influence. This area is the highest part of the Catalan coastal range, and the highest peaks are Turó de l’Home (1706 m), les Agudes (1705 m) and Matagalls (1697 m) (Figure 1). Because of the structure and hardness of the rocks, the topography is rather varied, with long rocky slopes. The high relief and deeply incised rivers have produced waterfalls and gorges. Because of differences in altitude and climate, the area contains communities, ranging from typically Mediterranean to subalpine. In the lower portion, holm oak (Quercus ilex) is abundant, together with other Mediterranean elements, such as cork oak and pines. In the upper part of the Mediterranean zone, holm oak gives way to the association of Quercetum mediterraneo-montanum on siliceous soils. Beech Fagus sylvatica forest occurs in the wet temperate zone of the mountains, typically above 1000 m a.s.l., where the climate is wet temperate. Due to its particular morphology and the presence of some slopes, highlighted by periglacial erosion, certain areas of the Montseny mountains act as an axilar refuge, maintaining vestigial species [13], such as the Montseny brook newt (Calotriton arnoldi), a case of the isolation of biota during the last glaciation. C. arnoldi was described by Carranza and Amat [14] and is restricted to a geographical area of <40 km2 within the Montseny mountain massif [15].
Figure 1. Location of the Montseny Mountains, with the limit of the Natural Park and the farms where interviews were conducted (white dots).
Figure 1. Location of the Montseny Mountains, with the limit of the Natural Park and the farms where interviews were conducted (white dots).
Sustainability 05 00654 g001
The Montseny Mountains were declared a Natural Park in 1977 and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1978. The area of the protection strategies differs slightly: the Natural Park comprises 31,063 ha, whereas the Biosphere Reserve includes 30,120 ha. Within the protected area, there are 460 farms, with an estimated population of 1168 inhabitants. In terms of land ownership, 85.7% of the park comprises privately owned farms, and 14.3% are public areas [16]. The majority of the Park population lives on farms, most of them with medieval origin, where they cultivate small home gardens and small estates in an agrosilvopastoral system; these people occasionally receive grants from the managers of the Park to maintain the infrastructure of their farms.

3. Materials and Methods

Data were collected in an extensive area (approximately 900 km2, corresponding to Vallès Oriental, Osona and La Selva counties [Catalonia, NE Spain]); the Montseny massif, the Natural Park and Biosphere Reserve (Figure 1), is located in this region. We selected several farms and agrarian developments located inside and outside of the Montseny massif to assess the differences in the number of landraces cultivated and the effect of the isolation of the inhabitants and their access to markets. The criterion used to select the farms consisted of whether the developments located outside of the boundaries of the protected area were similar to the common model created inside, i.e., small developments or home gardens. We also selected farms that were close to the protected area, due to the environmental conditions. The data collection from the farmers was based on semi-structured and structured interviews.

3.1. Sampling

The survey was conducted on farms located inside and outside of the Natural Park, where we previously knew that farmers conserve landraces. A total of 28 farmers were interviewed: 12 (43%) inside the boundaries of Montseny Natural Park and 16 (57%) outside. Those living outside of the Natural Park were located between 0.27 km and 8.44 km from the boundaries, with a mean distance of 3.25 ± 2.89 km (n = 16).

3.2. Location of the Farms

For each farm on which interviews were conducted, we collected data about the elevation and time required to reach the nearest market (Vic, Granollers or Sant Celoni), i.e., the time required to reach the economic and administrative hub “center”—market—in their area using a motor vehicle. On these markets, farmers sell a small part of their production, but get first necessity consumer goods. The time was calculated on the basis of the distance between the farm and the market using a geographic information system and the footpaths and roads in the area. Depending on the type of road and proposed average speed, the total distance of each (footpaths and roads) was travelled to obtain the total time in minutes. This measurement allowed us to ascertain the isolation of the farm, because several farms are located on the mountains, and the final access is sometimes by non-paved road.

3.3. Semi-Structured Interviews

We conducted semi-structured interviews concerning the socio-demography and management of the farm and developments. We then identified the landraces using a list provided by the local residents and through the advice of experts. We inquired about which landraces were currently conserved and about the market visited for reference purposes for calculating the travel time.

3.4. Data Analysis

Two-sample t-tests were performed to examine the differences between the number of conserved landraces by farmers located inside and those located outside of the Natural Park. Linear regressions were performed to correlate the number of landraces conserved, the distance to the nearest market and the influence of altitude.

4. Results

The farms located inside the boundaries of the Natural Park cultivated a mean of 10.83 landraces, whereas those located outside the boundaries cultivated a mean of 3.93 landraces (t = 3.8967, df = 19.759, p < 0.001). We also found a positive and significant correlation between the number of landraces cultivated and the degree of isolation, as calculated by the means of the distance to the nearest market for those farmers living inside of the Natural Park (rs = 0.29, p = 0.039, n = 12); however, there was no correlation for those farmers living outside of the protected area (rs = 0.17, p = 0.059, n = 16). The analysis of the effect of altitude for the pooled data, inside and outside of the protected area, showed a significant correlation between the number of landraces cultivated and altitude (rs = 0.34, p < 0.001, n = 28); this correlation was not found when we only used the data of the farms located inside the protected area (rs = 0.015, p = 0.3042, n = 12). In fact, there was a significant correlation between altitude and the time to the markets when the pooled data were used only for the farms inside of the protected area (rs = 0.51, p < 0.001, n = 18; rs = 0.3369, p = 0.05, n = 12, respectively). The number of landraces conserved in situ by the farmers ranged from zero to 19. A total of 69 landraces were identified; 38 were located only on those farms inside the Natural Park and 13 outside, and 18 were cropped in both territories (Table 1).
Several landraces of Phaseolus and Lycopersicon were found on the farms. Phaseolus is a member of the Fabacea family, which has been historically (after its European arrival) cultivated and diversified, because it is a species that only requires low agricultural inputs, particularly at times of scarcity of food resources. Phaseolus is easy to cultivate and produces high-quality proteins for animal and human consumption. Conversely, Lycopersicon requires careful attention and fertilization, but yields a higher production of high-quality fruit with a high organoleptic quality. This is a case of the cultural use of the variety.
Table 1. List of the 69 landraces found on the study area and the location with respect to the park (inside, outside and both).
Table 1. List of the 69 landraces found on the study area and the location with respect to the park (inside, outside and both).
Vernacular name (Catalan)Scientific name FamilyLocation
moniato blancIpomoea batatasConvolvulaceaeinside
col de paperina o de PascuaBrassica oleracea L. vars.Brassicaceaeinside
col de pell de galàpetBrassica oleracea L. vars.Brassicaceaeinside
col d'hivernBrassica oleracea L. vars.Brassicaceaeinside
col geganta Brassica oleracea L. vars.Brassicaceaeoutside
escarola de cabell d'àngelCichorium endivia L.Asteraceaeboth
escarola perruquetaCichorium endivia L.Asteraceaeinside
enciam de fulla de castanyerLatuca sativa L.Asteraceaeinside
enciam del sucre o del touLatuca sativa L.Asteraceaeinside
enciam escaroler o catalàLatuca sativa L.Asteraceaeinside
enciam orella de ruc/d'aseLatuca sativa L.Asteraceaeinside
carxofa moradaCynara scolymus L.Asteraceaeinside
carbassa del bon gust Cucurbita maximaCucurbitaceaeinside
carbassa rebequet o porqueraCucurbita maximaCucurbitaceaeboth
carbassa d'aiguaLagenaria sicerariCucurbitaceaeoutside
carbassa de cabell d'àngelCucurbita ficifoliaCucurbitaceaeboth
meló català o del sequerCucumis melo L.Cucurbitaceaeoutside
cogombre antic Cucumis sativus L.Cucurbitaceaeinside
blat de moro del queixal Zea mays ssp. MaysPoaceaeinside
blat de moro de la creu Zea mays ssp. MaysPoaceaeinside
ceba agra o de Molins de ReiAllium cepa L.Liliaceaeboth
ceba babosa blanca d'hivernAllium cepa L.Liliaceaeinside
ceba d'OlotAllium cepa L.Liliaceaeinside
ceba viguetanaAllium cepa L.Liliaceaeboth
all vermell de BanyolesAllium sativum L.Liliaceaeboth
all de VilafrancaAllium sativum L.Liliaceaeinside
all porrerAllium sativum L.Liliaceaeboth
mongeta avellaneta rossaPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeboth
mongeta castanyeraPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeinside
mongeta de la floretaPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeinside
mongeta de la neuPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeinside
mongeta de mata del diaPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeoutside
mongeta del carai o del rectorPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeoutside
mongeta del ganxet menutPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeinside
mongeta del ganxet migPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeboth
mongeta del ganxet terrerPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeinside
mongeta del pic grocPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeoutside
mongeta garrofer Phaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeinside
mongeta genoll de cristPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeboth
mongeta grogueta petita Phaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeinside
mongeta llaminera asprePhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeboth
mongeta llaminera mataPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeoutside
mongeta menuda o maionaPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeinside
mongeta paretana Phaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeinside
mongeta perona curta i llargaPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeinside
mongeta rossa d'arbúcies Phaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeinside
mongeta vallfornesaPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeinside
mongeta del metroPhaseolus vulgaris L.Fabaceaeboth
cigró mollar o del sucCicer arietinumFabaceaeoutside
pèsol del ganxo Pisum sativumFabaceaeoutside
estirabecsPisum sativum ssp. arvense L.Fabaceaeinside
cacauetsArachis hypogaeaFabaceaeoutside
espinac gran d'hivernSpinacia oleraceaAmaranthaceaeoutside
bleda blanca paísBeta vulgaris var. ciclaChenopodiaceaeinside
pebrot bitxo Capsicum annuum L.Solanaceaeinside
tomàquet 3 caires tardà de RiellsLycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeboth
tomàquet cor de bouLycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeboth
tomàquet corn de bou o pebroterLycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeoutside
tomàquet de penjar groc Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeinside
tomàquet de penjar pometaLycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeinside
tomàquet de penjar tipus bombeta Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeinside
tomàquet de penjar tipus tomacóLycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeinside
tomàquet penjar bombeta Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeboth
tomàquet penjar caçanelles Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeoutside
tomàquet penjar cirerolLycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeinside
tomàquet poma plé o palosantoLycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeboth
tomàquet pometaLycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeboth
tomàquet rosa de MontserratLycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeboth
tomàquet rosa ple gros Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.Solanaceaeinside
SafràCrocus sativusIridaceaeinside

5. Discussion and Conclusions

Protected areas are indisputably one of the main research ways for in situ biodiversity conservation around the world [17]. With approximately 12% of the world’s land surface and 1% of the marine environment [18], protected areas are usually focused on species and habitat management, rather than considerations on the functioning of ecological systems [19]. In fact, in most protected areas, biodiversity is almost exclusively focused on species richness and the amount of the species living inside the boundaries, yet it should be taken into account that biodiversity includes various aspects of the diversity of life [20], such as in situ crop protection. Among others objectives, protected areas are sheltered from urban sprawl and urbanization. Currently, the Montseny Natural Park presents a mosaic of small patches of forests, farms and pastures, as a result of the intensive forest exploitation to obtain charcoal and to clear space for cultivation [21]. However, the changes in land cover of the last 50 years, as a result of the abandonment of traditional agriculture and forest activity, have resulted in a vigorous expansion of the forest cover and, as a consequence, the water-courses have become more dry, due to the increase of plant transpiration and the rise of temperatures [22]. In the last 50 years, approximately 700 farms have been abandoned, both inside and outside of the protected area, but specially those relating to exploitation involve forest products, e.g., Boada [23]. Despite these conditions, people continue to live on small developments and farms, a way of life that is based on agrosilvopastoral systems, a collective name for land-use systems that implies the combination or deliberate association of a woody component (trees or shrubs) with cattle in the same site [24]. As shown by our results, the people living inside of the protected area of the Montseny Mountains cultivated more in situ landraces than those living outside of the protected area. This aspect was correlated with the time required to reach markets and the degree of isolation, but not with altitude. Due to the unique nature of the Montseny Mountains, with the presence of some slopes highlighted by periglacial erosion, the settlement of farms is associated with the environmental conditions. Indeed, these periglacial areas were key for the establishment of farms due to the fragmented and earthy materials that allowed soil development and the onset of agrarian activities. Anyway, the farms located in elevated zones are more influenced by the weather, the number of cultivated species is smaller than those located on lowlands and farmers are prone to keep more landraces in order to ensure their subsistence. In fact, four of the 12 farms found inside the Park, are located over 800 meters, the maximum being 1000. There, the environmental conditions are quite different from those farms located in areas near the boundaries of the Park. Although there is no consensus on the effect or impact of protected areas on the people who live in these areas [25], it is clear that, in the Montseny Mountains, protection has led to people living inside the Park boundaries and away from peri-urban development. Therefore, the farmers inside the Park cultivate more landraces than those living outside the Park, due to the isolation provided by the fact that the protected area avoids new urban development and the associated infrastructures and that these farmers need more time to reach markets. So, they become more self-sufficient. It is clear that there are two scenarios inside the Montseny Natural Park: those farms located near the border and those within the inner core (Figure 1). The latter are more prone to isolation than the former, which are closer to the markets. Regardless, the coverage provided by the protection is the same, being less exposed to changes in land use and cover and, thus, protected from urban planning and development.


David Robson advised us on statistical analysis, and Rossend Pujolar reviewed the English.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Boada, M.; Puig, J.; Barriocanal, C. The Effects of Isolation and Natural Park Coverage for Landrace In situ Conservation: An Approach from the Montseny Mountains (NE Spain). Sustainability 2013, 5, 654-663.

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Boada M, Puig J, Barriocanal C. The Effects of Isolation and Natural Park Coverage for Landrace In situ Conservation: An Approach from the Montseny Mountains (NE Spain). Sustainability. 2013; 5(2):654-663.

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Boada, Martí, Jordi Puig, and Carles Barriocanal. 2013. "The Effects of Isolation and Natural Park Coverage for Landrace In situ Conservation: An Approach from the Montseny Mountains (NE Spain)" Sustainability 5, no. 2: 654-663.

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