Soil Ecosystem Service – Recreational and landscape-related services

Outputs: Human physical and spiritual health and wellbeing

Definition: Soil fundamentally contributes to the appearance and diversity of landscapes and largely defines a range of land uses in the Alps. Land-uses/landscapes enable diverse aesthetic, spiritual, cultural, and physical experiences to humans and are the physical and aesthetical framework for a range of recreational and touristic activities in the Alps.

Relevant effects, processes and controlling soil properties: Soil properties (e.g. soil depth, texture, nutrient level, permeability, etc.) and soil quality (fertility), geomorphology (e.g. slope steepness, exposition, altitude, etc.) and (micro) climatic conditions fundamentally define the land suitability for different lands uses created or managed by humans or the properties and scenic values of natural and semi-natural areas. For instance, the deep and fertile soil in suitable relief and climate are primarily used for agriculture, shallow soils on moderate slopes at higher elevations for pastures, steeper mountain slopes are frequently used as protective forests, stony and shallow soil at high altitudes as natural mountain grasslands or scenic mountain peaks, etc. Soils directly contribute to the suitability for diverse recreational activities such as ski runs, mountain-bike trails, and indirectly to interesting and scenic landscapes that attract people.

Relations to the entire ecosystem: Direct and indirect aesthetic and recreational soil ecosystem services cannot be separated from those performed at the ecosystem/landscape level.

Relations to other services: Recreational and landscape soil services as a part of the landscape, does normally not interfere with other soil ecosystem services, they are inherited. However, the use of soils as sports grounds may affect or even threaten other important soil ecosystem services such as water purification, water retention, local climate regulation, and providing habitats (biodiversity).

Land use impacts: Recreation and touristic activities usually take place within existing Alpine territory, dedicated to different land uses. Mountain grasslands used for pasture in summer are used as ski runs in winter, forests and grasslands host mountain bike trails, and high-biodiversity and nature conservation areas are visited for hiking and admiring. Yet, recreation and touristic activities may significantly affect or even degrade soils by changing its physical and chemical properties due to trampling, compaction, erosion, contamination, etc. By this, the provision of other soil ecosystem services can be affected or threatened. Hence, a sustainable land and soil management within recreational and touristic activities in the Alps must ensure adequate protection of these soils.

Climate change impacts: Global climate change drive to local changes of distribution of precipitation, temperatures that affect soils, vegetation and consequently, Alpine land uses/landscapes. The effects are difficult to predict and the adaptation measures are hard to foresee. According to future scenarios, ski resorts in the Alps will face snow shortages and shorter ski seasons which will threaten the viability of ski-tourism and lead to adaptation measures.

Demand aspects: Hiking, skiing, mountain biking and other sport and tourist activities are in particular important for regional Alpine economies. A better understanding of soils and impacts of diverse sports and recreation activities on the alpine soils can contribute to the design of sustainable soil use and management in the tourism sector.

Short description:

  • Outputs: Human physical and spiritual health and wellbeing
  • Provision: Land uses and landscapes that are used for a wide range of outdoor activities that contribute to human health and enable people to benefit on cultural, spiritual, and aesthetic experiences. For some activities, a specific soil management is required, to protect soils and assure favourable the soil physical and chemical properties.
  • Demand: Skiing, hiking, and mountain biking are main sports activities that are in particular relevant for the Alpine region and drive local economies.
  • Threat: Inappropriate soil management and building of tourist infrastructure (e.g. ski runs, mountain bike or hiking trails) promote severe erosion, which in turn threatens all soil ecosystem services.


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