Past landscape features may be captured by historical floristic data. A case study in northern Italy

Historical floras, i.e. lists of plant species recorded in a given geographical area, are not usually considered for capturing past landscape features. In this study, we tested the usefulness of the simultaneous use of historical floristic data and a coeval topographic map to evaluate the main features of the past vegetation landscape and the potential of such data in change detection. Our study site was the Monte Fumaiolo area (northern Italy), where historical floristic data were independently recorded by two famous botanists during the 1930s. Past floristic data were then compared with current cartographic and vegetation data.

Despite the fact that the two authors explored a comparable area, they significantly differed in the use of toponyms and in the distribution of floristic records among toponyms. This is reflected by a low floristic similarity at the toponym level between the two data sets. Nevertheless, the species classification into ecological categories allowed to highlight how the two authors recorded similar information on the landscape features. However, the use of these floristic data may have some flaws in landscape change detection.