Land Use and Land Use Change
Currently, more than 70% of the ice-free land surface is used by humans, and on about 50% of this, use is very intensive - in the form of arable land, pasture or commercial forestry. Understanding the dynamics of land use change is critical in tackling global societal challenges such as food security, climate change, and biodiversity loss. Land use change has played a major role in historic greenhouse gas emissions, and will continue to be an important contributor to climate change mitigation through enhanced land carbon stocks, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and deforestation. Likewise, land use is critical to the world being able to feed a growing population, provide timber and fiber, and in the fight to reduce biodiversity loss arising from land use driven habitat destruction and fragmentation.
One of several challenges is to understand how human behavior and decision-making affects land use change and impacts on the broader environment in support of sustainable solutions to better land management.
In addition, the actual impacts of land management on ecosystems are still imperfectly understood, which hampers assessment of how changes in management practices affect the supply of multiple ecosystem services and the development of successful restoration strategies.
Finally, dynamics in coupled socio-ecological systems are poorly captured: for instance, how does climate change impact crop or forest yields, how does this potentially change human decision-making on how to use the land, and what are the consequences for ecosystem processes and climate in turn?
Current scenarios of future global land use change are unrealistic in many aspects and do not include important ecosystem processes and human activities. To this end, we are developing new modelling methods that allow us to develop a more nuanced picture of sustainable land use based on the underlying processes in coupled socio-economic and natural systems. Our aim is to demonstrate ways in which climate change mitigation, climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation can be combined.
We apply various data-driven methods and computer models at different spatial and temporal scales in the assessment of land use change and its environmental impacts, for the past, present and future. This includes data and modelling methods to quantify the impacts of land use change on the climate system, food security and nature. Our advanced modelling and data analysis technologies draw on KIT/IMK-IFUs high-powered computing facility.
For more information on the individual models, see the links on the Research Group websites under contact.
HILDA+ Global land use change
By combining multiple open data streams (remote sensing, reconstructions and statistics) we created the HIstoric Land Dynamics Assessment + (HILDA +), a global map set on annual land use/cover change between 1960-2019 at 1 km spatial resolution. We estimate that land use change has affected almost a third (32%) of the global land area in just six decades (1960-2019) and, thus, is around four times greater in extent than previously estimated from long-term land use reconstructions. We identify geographically diverging land use change patterns, with afforestation and cropland abandonment in the Global North and deforestation and agricultural expansion in the Global South (see figure).
Europe’s Green Deal offshores environmental damage to other nations
Europe is to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 – that is what the EU announced with the "Green Deal" at the end of 2019. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions and promote forests, agriculture, environmentally friendly transport, recycling and renewable energies. In the journal Nature, we show that the "Green Deal" could be a bad deal for the planet, as the EU is shifting its environmental damage outward by importing a large amount of agricultural goods. We also provide recommendations for action on how the deal could promote global sustainability.
Paper: Fuchs, R.; Brown, C.; Rounsevell, M (2020). Europe’s Green Deal offshores environmental damage to other nations. Nature 586 (7831), 671–673.
Agent-based modelling of European land use change - the CRAFTY model
Concerns are growing that human activity will lead to social and environmental breakdown, but it is hard to anticipate when and where such breakdowns might occur. We developed a new model of land management decisions in Europe to explore possible future changes under different levels of climate change. We found that more realistic forms of decision-making, which take account of environmental conditions as well as production and profit, can change land system dynamics substantially. However, in the most difficult social and economic conditions, new ways of maintaining food production and beneficial forms of land management may be required to avoid the collapse of food supplies.
Land use and bumblebees
Bumblebees are important pollinators that provide high value to food production and ecosystem functioning. Many species are on decline, threatened by climate change, land-use change and agricultural intensification. Our research identifies a highly variable response of different European bumblebee species across a range of plausible future climate and land-use scenarios, where rare species in low-end climate change scenarios are especially affected by land-use decisions. A better understanding of how land management affects bees (and other pollinators) is currently limited by how processes are depicted in our simulation models, but it is important to develop effective conservation strategies. We are currently working on the integration of the process-based CRAFTY (land use) and RangeShifter (ecology) models, which will allow us to simulate land-use - climate - pollinator interactions at a new level of ecological and behavioural detail.
Paper: Prestele, R., Brown, C., Polce, C., Maes, J., & Whitehorn, P. (2021). Large variability in response to projected climate and land-use changes among European bumblebee species. Global Change Biology, 27.
Land use and ecosystem services mapping using social media big data
Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. Quantification of the provision of ecosystem services and understanding how people use them are essential for informed decision-making about natural resource use. However, some services such as cultural ecosystem services are difficult to measure and map due to methodological limitations. Here, we use geotagged crowdsourced photos to analyze how people use ecosystems and to determine the current status of ecosystem services. We annotate the photos using established computer vision models based on convolutional neural networks (CNN) and the relationships among the tags are investigated using keyword network analysis. This approach was applied first in a case study in Mulde basin in Saxony, Germany and will be further applied in EU 27 countries to analyze how protected areas are pressured by human use. The resulting maps provide spatially-explicit information about different types of ecosystem services and land use patterns, to support evidence-based ecosystem and biodiversity management in the EU.
Paper: Heera Lee, Bumsuk Seo, Thomas Koellner, Sven Lautenbach (2019). Mapping cultural ecosystem services 2.0 – Potential and shortcomings from unlabeled crowd sourced images. Ecological Indicators (96).
The network of the LandSyMM modular modelling framework
The Future Earth AIMES project (Analysis, Integration & Modelling of the Earth System)
The Global Land Programme (GLP) and AIMES Working Group on large-scale behavioural modelling land use change