In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Land Use and Cover Change

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Synthesis

Geography Land Use and Cover Change
Alexander Zvoleff, Sarah Wandersee, Li An, David López-Carr
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0105


Land use and cover change (LUCC) is the study of land surface change. Land use (such as agriculture, pasture, or plantation) describes human use of land, while land cover (such as forest or desert) describes the biophysical characteristics of the land surface. Land use change may affect land cover, while changing land cover may similarly affect land use. Research on LUCC is essentially of multidisciplinary nature, attracting scientists from a range of fields, including but not limited to economics, sociology, geography, GIScience (geographic information systems [GIS] and remote sensing in particular), and demography. More than twice as much land globally (over 30 million square kilometers) is in use as pasture and grasslands relative to agricultural land. The majority of the latter is cultivated in crops to feed livestock or to fuel engines rather than to feed humans. While the most-suitable agricultural lands tend to be among the first wildlands converted to agriculture, increased agricultural expansion usually entails diminishing returns on agricultural yields. With agricultural land per capita decreasing in many parts of the world, despite increasing demands for food, fuel, and fiber, LUCC remains the most salient expression of human occupation across the earth’s surface. How many people, living where, eating and consuming what, and produced how and where describes the vast majority of these human-inscribed landscape dynamics. This article begins with several sources that provide General Overviews of LUCC, and highlights several of the primary Journals publishing LUCC research. The remainder of the article divides the field into four broad sections: Patterns and Processes, Impacts and Responses, Modeling, and Synthesis. This division closely follows prior reviews of the field (see General Overviews).

General Overviews

The research plans of the joint projects of the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) have greatly influenced LUCC research since the early 1990s. These reports are an excellent starting point for readers interested in a general overview of LUCC research. Turner, et al. 1995, in the science plan for the IGBP/IHDP joint LUCC project, outlines the research agenda for the LUCC project and describes the links between LUCC research and existing physical and social-science research programs. Lambin and Geist 2006 is a summary report done at the conclusion of the LUCC project. Lambin and Geist introduce the report by arguing that the community is approaching an “overarching theory” of LUCC. Following the LUCC project, another joint IGBP/IHDP project was initiated, the Global Land Project (GLP). The science plan for the GLP project (GLP Transition Team 2005) provides an introduction to the state and direction of LUCC research in the early 21st century, while the subsequent periodic reports of the GLP provide readers with a more focused look at important topics in LUCC research. Geist and Lambin 2002 describes the “proximate causes and underlying drivers” framework for understanding tropical LUCC, which has been highly influential. Turner, et al. 2007 discusses the emerging field of “land change science” and its role within the broader field of research on global environmental change, providing an overview of the current state and future directions of LUCC research. A number of books also provide overviews of LUCC research. Meyer and Turner 1994 provides a comprehensive overview of LUCC research just prior to the initiation of the IGBP/IHDP LUCC project. Two edited volumes, Singh, et al. 2001 and Gutman, et al. 2004, provides a bird’s-eye view, and status quo, of LUCC research, with a focus on linking LUCC data with socioeconomic and other processes on the ground and envisioning the corresponding consequences on human-environment systems. Giri 2012 is relatively more technical, focusing on remote-sensing methods and applications.

  • Geist, Helmut J., and Eric F. Lambin. “Proximate Causes and Underlying Driving Forces of Tropical Deforestation.” BioScience 52.2 (2002): 143–150.

    DOI: 10.1641/0006-3568(2002)052[0143:PCAUDF]2.0.CO;2

    This seminal paper established the framework of proximate causes and underlying drivers for understanding tropical deforestation. Proximate causes are “local-level” activities directly responsible for forest cover change, while underlying drivers are “fundamental social processes . . . that underpin the proximate causes” (p. 143). A must-read for anyone working in LUCC research.

  • Giri, Chandra P., ed. Remote Sensing of Land Use and Land Cover: Principles and Applications. Taylor & Francis Series in Remote Sensing Applications. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1201/b11964

    This book presents the state of the art, and new frontiers, in methods and techniques in LUCC characterization, mapping, and monitoring using remote-sensing technology, with empirical examples at multiple scales. This book could be used as a textbook or reference for upper-division or graduate students and experts in remote sensing.

  • GLP Transition Team. Global Land Project: Science Plan and Implementation Strategy. IGBP Report 53. Stockholm: IGBP Secretariat, 2005.

    This document outlines the goals and science plan for the GLP carried out by the IGBP and IHDP, as successor to the LUCC project (see Lambin and Geist 2006). The goal of the GLP is to focus on three areas: LUCC dynamics, LUCC consequences, and “integrating analysis and modeling for land sustainability” (p. 9). See the annual reports of the GLP for additional information online.

  • Gutman, Garik, Anthony C. Janetos, Christopher O. Justice, et al., eds. Land Change Science: Observing, Monitoring and Understanding Trajectories of Change on the Earth’s Surface. Remote Sensing and Digital Image Processing 6. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-2562-4

    This book, a synthesis of a set of NASA-funded projects under the Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Program, brings together detailed case studies, regional analyses, and globally scaled efforts on mapping LUCC and understanding its driving forces and broad consequences. It is appropriate for students, land change scientists, and policymakers.

  • Lambin, Eric F., and Helmut J. Geist, eds. Land-Use and Land-Cover Change: Local Processes and Global Impacts. Global Change—the IGBP Series. Berlin: Springer Verlag, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1007/3-540-32202-7

    This report documents the results of the LUCC project carried out jointly by the IGBP and IHDP. In their introduction to the report, Lambin, Geist, and Ronald Rindfuss argue that researchers are approaching an “overarching theory” of LUCC “that explain[s] change in the behavior of people as well as land-cover/use change” (p. 7).

  • Meyer, William B., and B. L. Turner II, eds. Changes in Land Use and Land Cover: A Global Perspective. Papers presented at the 1991 OEIS Global Change Institute conference, held in Snowmass Village, CO. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

    The edited proceedings of the 1991 Global Change Institute meeting (seventeen chapters), this is a good resource for an overview of LUCC research in the early 1990s, prior to the advent of the IGBP/IHDP projects. The three tutorial chapters on LUCC data analysis and modeling tools are helpful to researchers interested in technical details.

  • Singh, R. B., Jefferson Fox, and Yukio Himiyama, eds. Land Use and Cover Change. Enfield, NH: Science Publishers, 2001.

    This book represents a compilation of twenty-four research articles presented at a special seminar in 1999. With goals to monitor LUCC and to “socialize the pixel” (link such changes to socioeconomic and geographic processes), this book covers a wide range of geographic regions and technical/modeling applications.

  • Turner, B. L., II, Eric F. Lambin, and Anette Reenberg. “The Emergence of Land Change Science for Global Environmental Change and Sustainability.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104.52 (2007): 20666–20671.

    DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0704119104

    This paper presents the field of “land change science” and reviews the state of the field within four broad topic areas: “observation and monitoring; understanding the coupled system—causes, impacts, and consequences; modeling; and synthesis issues” (p. 20666). This article uses a modified version of this framework to structure its discussion of LUCC.

  • Turner, B. L., II, David Skole, Steven Sanderson, Günther Fischer, Louise Fresco, and Rik Leemans. Land-Use and Land-Cover Change: Science/Research Plan. IGBP Report 35. Stockholm: Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1995.

    This report documents the research agenda for the IGBP and IHDP LUCC project. This project defined LUCC research for much of the next decade and culminated in a pivotal 2006 report (Lambin and Geist 2006).

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