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Freiburger Geographische Hefte, Vol 67

Rüdiger Mäckel, Heiko Steuer und Thomas Uhlendahl (2011): Formation and Development of Present-Day Landscapes – Results of an Interdisciplinary Research Training Group


The study is based on the latest results of the research training group „Formation and Development of Present-Day Landscapes”, which was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) from 2001 to 2007 (DFG-GRK 692). The grant included 31 scholarships at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. The supervisors of the scholarship holders come from ten different departments, which belong to four, later three faculties of Natural or Human Sciences respectively. The investigations are centered on the landscape of the Upper Rhine region, which covers the plain of the Upper Rhine Lowlands and the adjacent mountain zones of the Black Forest and the Vosges. The hypothesis of the research program states that the human impact on the formation and development of this landscape has been much greater than previously thought. The aim of the research is the reconstruction of the natural environmental changes and the human impact on the landscape history since the sedentarization of the man during Neolithic Time (about 5500 BC). Above that, the interrelationship of climatic influences on anthropogenic activities and their response to environmental processes in different natural regions were investigated.

The study area encompasses different natural units of the Upper Rhine region. Based on altitude, climate, vegetation and soils, various sites were selected, which represent a specific environment and show different responses to natural changes and/or human impact. The lowland sites with favourable loess soils and a mild climate were compared with the cooler and moister uplands of the Black Forest and the Vosges, i.e. with the formerly glaciated sites and the upper reaches and watersheds of the mountain rivers.

The present-day position side by side of landscape forms and images, which were partly caused by recent, partly by historical processes, could be explained by natural scientific as well as by historical and archaeological methods and techniques with view to the time of development. Therefore, the analysis of natural and anthropogenic influences on the environment from Neolithic Time to the present-day landscape needed a cooperation of different disciplines working in the field. The integration of various subjects with regard to contents, regions and methods and the interdisciplinary cooperation within the lecture and research programme were established by the spheral concept. Main emphasis was put on the woodland-open land-relation and because of that the connected historical differences in the intensity of land use and forming within the landscape development. These studies were carried out along landscape transects and with regard to landscape comparison. The elaboration of methods was concentrated on the evaluation of proxy data, natural and historical archives, archaeological findings and on the pollen and charcoal analysis. The use of dating methods constituted an important field of integrated studies between the topics and aims of the different dissertations. With the representation of the separate results importance was attached to the networking to dissertations and to stimulate further research projects by interdisciplinary cooperation. Main focuses of the topics originating from the abiotic sphere are the climate history and the interaction of climate and vegetation changes within the man-environment-structure. In connection because of that there are the changes in the water and river systems and geomorphodynamics, which were investigated by the landscape management, geomorphology, paleoecology and soil sciences. The topics of the biotic sphere comprise the effect of climate changes, historical events and landuse changes on the actual vegetation cover. These research subjects resulted in an intensive cooperation between natural science methods (biology, forest and environmental sciences) and the human sciences (archaeology, history, human geography). In addition they show a relation to applied tasks such as the sustainable landscape development, care of the countryside and nature protection. The topics of the anthroposphere combine the formulation of questions and the research approach, which describe and assess the direct impact of man on the environment as well as the awareness of the corresponding landscape by man. In addition to these investigations, topics such as the development of the cultural landscapes, environmental planning and also aesthetic components of the landscape (landscape image, environmental perception) belong, as well as practical measures in the fields of tourism, land use and landscape management.

The research results of the scholarship holders were finally evaluated with regard to the temporal and regional aspect. The investigations show a much higher and earlier level of interferences of man on the environment than previously assumed. Preferred settlement and farming areas since the onset of sedentarization and farming during Neolithic Time were the warmer and loess covered areas of the lowlands and foothills. However, also the higher zones of the mountains were used during climatically favorable periods (i. e. late Neolithic, Bronze Age, Roman Times). Thus a distinct contrast of the intensity of human impact between the lowlands and the highlands does not exist. It can rather be described as an interaction between different natural regions. Noticeable is the connection between the changes of woodland and open land and the geomorphodynamic processes. Nine main erosion/sedimentation phases can be observed due to different levels of land use intensity. They show a strong denudation and sedimentation during Roman Times and the High Middle Ages and a lack of alluvial sediments in the climatically unfavorable parts of the Holocene, for example during the transition of Bronze to Iron Age or during the migration of the people. However, some research results point to a distinctive development of some valley landscapes and altitudinal zones. Accordingly, a different influence of man on the environment is detected within closed and equal natural units, for example in the Sulzbach valley or in the upper settlement areas of the Southern Black Forest and the Vosges.

Based on the research work of the research training group a new and reliable knowledge of the landscape history in the Upper Rhine areas could be acquired. The final results form an indispensable prerequisite for the assessment of the future development of the landscape. Therefore the results also serve as an important basis for applied purposes, for example regional planning, land use management, nature protection, preservation of historical monuments as well as the conservation of the landscape for recreation and tourism.