Dehesa (pastoral management)
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Dehesa is a multifunctional agro-sylvo-pastoral system (a type of agroforestry) and cultural landscape of southern and central Spain and southern Portugal, where it is known as Montado (Fra. Paleo 2010). Dehesas may be private or communal property (usually belonging to the municipality). Used primarily for grazing, they produce a variety of products including non-timber forest products such as wild game, mushrooms, honey, cork, and firewood. The tree component is oaks, usually holm (Quercus ilex) and cork (Quercus suber). Other oaks, including Melojo (Quercus pyrenica) and Quejigo (Quercus canariensis), may be used to form dehesa, the species depending on geographical location and elevation. Dehesa is an anthropogenic system that provides not only a variety of foods, but also wildlife habitat for endangered species such as the Iberian lynx and the Spanish Imperial eagle (Joffre 1999; Huntsinger et al. 2004; McGrath,2007).
The dehesa is derived from the Mediterranean forest ecosystem, consisting of pastureland featuring herbaceous species for grazing and tree species belonging to the genus Quercus (oak), such as the holm oak (Quercus ilex), although other tree species such as beech and pine trees may also be present. Oaks are protected and pruned to produce acorns, which the famous black Iberian pigs feed on in the fall during the Montanera (Parsons 1962). Ham produced from Iberian pigs fattened with acorns and air-dried at high elevations is known as jamon, which sells for premium prices, especially if only acorns have been used for fattening.
There is debate about the origins and maintenance of the dehesa, and whether or not the oaks can reproduce adequately under the grazing densities now achieved in the dehesa or montado. Goats, cattle, and sheep also graze in dehesa. In a typical dehesa, oaks are managed to persist for about 250 years. If cork oaks are present, the cork is harvested about every 9–12 years, depending on the productivity of the site. The understory is usually cleared every 7–10 years, to prevent the takeover of the woodland by shrubs of the rock rose family (Cistaceae), often referred to as "jara", or by oak sprouts. Oaks are spaced to maximize light for the grasses in the understory, water use in the soils, and acorn production for pigs and game (Joffre 1999). Periodic hunts in the dehesa are known as the monteria. Groups attend a hunt at a private estate, and wait at hunting spots for game to be driven to them with dogs. They usually pay well for the privilege, and hunt wild boar, red deer and other species.
The dehesa system has great economic and social importance on the Iberian peninsula because of both the large amount of land involved and its importance in maintaining rural population levels. The major source of income for dehesa owners is overwhelmingly cork, a sustainable product that supports this ancient production system and old growth oaks. If one is interested in protecting and encouraging this agroforestry habitat, it is best to make sure that any wine you buy is closed with a real cork (McGrath 2007).
The area of dehesa usually coincides with areas that could be termed "marginal" because of both their limited agricultural potential (due to the poor quality of the soil) and a lack of local industry, which results in isolated agro-industries and very low capitalization.
Extent in the Iberian peninsula
Dehesa covers nearly 20,000 square kilometers on the Iberian peninsula, mainly in:
Other uses of the term
Dehesa also refers to the type of rangeland management of estates for private agro-livestock exploitation in Mediterranean-type forests from which multiple resources are obtained simultaneously.
- Fra. Paleo, Urbano. 2010. The dehesa/montado landscape. In Sustainable use of biological diversity in socio-ecological production landscapes. Bélair, C., Ichikawa, K., Wong, B.Y.L. and Mulongoy, K.J. (eds.). Montreal: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Technical Series no. 52. pp. 149–151. http://www.cbd.int/doc/publications/cbd-ts-52-en.pdf
- Huntsinger, Lynn, Adriana Sulak, Lauren Gwin, and Tobias Plieninger. 2004. Oak woodland ranchers in California and Spain: Conservation and diversification. In Advances in Geoecology, edited by S. F. A. Schnabel.
- Joffre R; Rambal S; Ratte JP. 1999. The dehesa system of southern Spain and Portugal as a natural ecosystem mimic. Journal of Agroforestry. 45(1-3): 57-79.
- McGrath, S. 2007. Corkscrewed. Audubon magazine. http://archive.audubonmagazine.org/features0701/habitat.html
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