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Two major questions were investigated in this study: (1) What are the contributions of historical in comparison with natural factors to the development of present-day forest patterns? (2) What implications can be drawn from an understanding of forest patterns and historical land-use development with regard to landscape planning and nature conservation? The Sandstein-Spessart, a natural unit in south-western Germany, served as an example to show the influence of different types and intensities of land use on the differentiation of the natural landscape. The methodological approach to this study was a synthesis of previously available information. It was shown that different initial site conditions within the natural unit such as geology and climate led partly to the spatial differentiation of the present-day landscape. However, economic and political factors such as the glasswork industry and hunting activities also played a major role in the development of different forest patterns. Examples are given of how this synthesis of landscape ecology and landscape history can provide a useful basis for nature conservation and landscape planning.