The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification defines ‘land degradation’ as a reduction or loss of the biological and economic productivity resulting from land-use mismanagement, or a combination of processes, such as soil erosion, deterioration of soil properties, and loss of natural vegetation and biodiversity. Land degradation is hence an interactive process involving multiple factors, among which climate, land-use, economic dynamics and socio-demographic forces play a key role. Especially in the Mediterranean basin, joint biophysical and socioeconomic factors shape the intrinsic level of vulnerability of both natural and agricultural land to degradation. The interplay between biophysical and socioeconomic factors may become extremely complex over time and space, resulting in specific patterns of landscape deterioration. This paper summarizes theoretical expectations and empirical knowledge in the field of soil and landscape degradation in Mediterranean Europe, evidencing the intimate relationship between agriculture and socio-demographic factors of growth (or decline) of rural areas. Understanding spatio-temporal trends of each factor underlying land degradation and the related background context is a key tool in the assessment of the spatial distribution of vulnerable and critical land to degradation. Empirical results of a permanent monitoring of land degradation contributes to delineate more effective conservation policies through identification of target areas requiring specific actions for biodiversity and landscape protection. With increasing human pressure on rural environments, a diachronic evaluation of patterns and processes of land degradation reveals particularly appropriate in a both positive and normative perspective, prefiguring new actions for soil conservation and landscape valorization under global change.
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