Present forest biodiversity patterns in france related to former Roman agriculture

Ecology. 2007 Jun;88(6):1430-9. doi: 10.1890/05-1314.


Combined archaeological and ecological investigations in a large ancient oak forest in Central France have revealed a dense network of ancient human settlements dating from the Roman period. We demonstrate a strong correlation between present-day forest plant diversity patterns and the location of Roman farm buildings. Plant species richness strongly increases toward the center of the settlements, and the frequency of neutrophilous and nitrogen-demanding species is higher. This pattern is paralleled by an increase in soil pH, available P, and delta(15)N, indicating the long-term impact of former agricultural practices on forest biogeochemical cycles. These extensive observations in a forested region on acid soils complement and confirm previous results from a single Roman settlement on limestone. Ancient Roman agricultural systems are increasingly being identified in contemporary French forests; the broad extent and long-lasting effects of previous cultivation shown in this study require that land-use history be considered as a primary control over biodiversity variations in many forest landscapes, even after millennia of abandonment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Archaeology / methods*
  • Biodiversity*
  • Ecosystem*
  • France
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Nitrogen / analysis
  • Phosphorus / analysis
  • Soil / analysis*
  • Species Specificity
  • Time Factors
  • Trees*


  • Soil
  • Phosphorus
  • Nitrogen