Pockets of persistence of agricultural land use during the socioeconomic shock of forced post-WWII displacements in the Carpathians

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Socioeconomic shocks can cause regime shifts in land use, but even during shocks, and when land use change is widespread, some areas persist in their land use. The question is what makes these areas more resistant. Our research goal was to find out what explains where arable farming persisted despite a major socioeconomic shock of forced post-war displacements. Our study area were 291 villages in the Polish Carpathians where abandonment due to the forced displacement of the Ukrainian population after WWII was widespread. We compared prewar arable land with 1990 CORINE Land Cover data to quantify land-use change throughout the socialist period. We applied logistic regression with economically relevant environmental and access-related variables, and assessed the explanatory power of our models and relative importance of determinants. Forty years after forced displacements, arable farming persisted only in a small portion of what had been farmed in the 1940s (16 %), while the majority of former arable land converted to forests (54 %) or grasslands (22 %). Arable farming persisted mainly in areas with high accessibility that had oak-hornbeam forest as potential natural vegetation, on less steep slopes, and at lower elevations. Our models predicting agricultural abandonment leading to reforestation performed well (R2 = 0.57), but our model of persistent agriculture had low explanatory power (R2 = 0.26) as did models of conversion to grassland (R2 = 0.24). We therefore conclude that agricultural persistence is driven by different factors than agricultural land abandonment. In the long term, after arable farming ceases, areas can either be completely abandoned or convert to less intensive grassland use. These long-term changes have strong effects on biodiversity and ecosystem services, but are not well predicted by environmental and access-related determinants. Our findings can help to develop strategies and policies for areas affected by agricultural land abandonment caused by depopulation, and other socioeconomic shocks, and highlight the need to understand not only why arable land is abandoned, but also what determines its long-term fate.