Modeling Land Use Change

A disparate range of approaches have been employed to model land-use change. Models vary in spatial extent, from local to global, in resolution, from individual agents to aggregate landscape units, and in complexity, from regression analysis to integrated system models. Increasingly, land-use models are spatially explicit, rely on multiple techniques for data integration and analysis, feature dynamic representations of system elements, and facilitate participatory planning through scenario development and graphic representation of model output. Early incarnations of large-scale models had statistical, theoretical, and data deficiencies that limited their efficacy and diminished their overall utility for widespread application. Their considerable input data requirements were a formidable cost constraint at a time when computational ability and digital data availability were limited, and their complex specification made it difficult to comprehend what the models were actually doing.

Land-use models have evolved from aspatial mathematical specifications of linear relationships to spatially explicit dynamic simulations that allow feedbacks between model subsystems and account for divergent institutional and ecological forcings. This evolution has been met with both problems and skepticism from theoreticians and practitioners. In part, the theoretical issues relate to the lack of overarching theory to guide the development of integrated land-use models. Implementation problems, on the other hand, are more closely linked to a limited understanding of the complex relationships between human and natural systems, the availability of required data at appropriate spatial and temporal scales, and the ability to realistically address pertinent land-use policy and development issues through simulation modeling. Nevertheless, land-use models have become a valuable resource for understanding cumulative impacts ofindividual decisions, simulating outcomes of alternative land-management policies, and facilitating stakeholder involvement in land-use planning and resource management.

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