Models of Progressive Land Use Change

Although ecologists tend to focus on natural systems, the increase in the proportion of converted land relative to natural lands driven by economic growth and development has led to a marriage between socioeconomics and landscape ecology (socio-ecological systems). New spatial economic models are being used to understand the causes and consequences of land conversion: what factors influence people to build homes and businesses where they do and how do these progressive changes affect future economic decisions? Understanding factors that create demand for land in different uses (and thereby increase land value) can be used to create cost-effective conservation strategies, among other uses.

For integrated landscape models that seek to address management questions by incorporating ecological, social, and economic change, effort must be allocated among various types of model components. For systems that are lightly influenced by humans, socioeconomic models may play a limited role in integrated modeling, for example, by characterizing future sources of human-induced risks to the ecosystem. However, for systems that have either been significantly altered by or are heavily used by humans, socioeconomic model components take on an increasingly important role for understanding both how humans change and are changed by their natural environments.

The interactions that exist between landscapes and economies are essential elements affecting our ability to understand, predict, and manage (ecological economics). The sudden and rapid ecological change that is often precipitated by land conversion for commercial, industrial, and residential use is an important driver of ecological condition. Spatial modeling approaches that evaluate future vulnerabilities of ecosystems by considering changing landscapes can be effective tools for defining the management actions to preserve or conserve desirable system attributes and services and to do so cost-effectively. Although spatial models of land conversion operating at coarse scales (e.g., a 1000 km2 pixel) cannot incorporate the local economic drivers affecting land conversion, these models have succeeded in representing the correlation between population growth and the process of landscape change under constant policy conditions (growth of human population). Other types of models that integrate economic and ecological concepts are valuable for evaluating alternative policy options because they encompass the most important drivers of change and the feedbacks that may cause those drivers to change in rate, magnitude, or spatial pattern.

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