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Journal of Land Use Science


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Current and future challenges in land-


use science
ab c
Daniel Müller & Darla K. Munroe
a
Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition
Economies (IAMO), Halle (Saale), Germany
b
Geography Department, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin,
Germany
c
Department of Geography, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH,
USA
Published online: 12 Mar 2014.

To cite this article: Daniel Müller & Darla K. Munroe (2014) Current and future challenges in land-
use science, Journal of Land Use Science, 9:2, 133-142, DOI: 10.1080/1747423X.2014.883731

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Journal of Land Use Science, 2014
Vol. 9, No. 2, 133–142, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1747423X.2014.883731

EDITORIAL
Current and future challenges in land-use science

Beginning in January 2014, we took over the editorial leadership of the Journal of Land
Use Science (JLUS). Our primary objective is to develop the journal further into the
leading journal for land-use science. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr
Richard Aspinall for the service he provided to the land-use science community in
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launching this journal in 2006, and for his commitment in managing it for the last 8
years. We would also like to reaffirm the goals and editorial vision he set (Aspinall, 2006),
as well as highlight a selected array of new research directions and priorities. In this
editorial, we will briefly review some important articles that have demonstrated the stated
goals of the journal to date. Then, we discuss new areas for publication by highlighting
key contemporary research questions in land-use science with scientific and policy
relevance.

Growing societal and scientific importance of land-use science


Land use is the human modification of the Earth’s surface, which has strongly affected
and will increasingly shape planetary functions (Steffen, Crutzen, & McNeill, 2007).
Looming sustainability problems such as climate change, increasing demand for food,
accelerating urbanization, the ongoing biodiversity crisis and widespread changes in the
structure and functioning of ecosystems with implications for the services they provide all
indicate that research at the interface of humans and the environment will continue to be
of utmost societal relevance (Verburg, Erb, Mertz, & Espindola, 2013). Land use is key
for understanding and potentially solving these sustainability challenges, and land-use
science therefore remains a critical topic for academic study as it contributes to better
understanding human–environment interactions across different spatial and temporal
scales and to outlining pathways towards sustainable resource use.
Land-use science, also called land-change science (Gutman et al., 2005; Turner,
Lambin, & Reenberg, 2007), and land-system science (Reenberg, 2009; Verburg, Erb,
et al., 2013), is the study of changes in land at the interface of social and environmental
systems and their implications for the global environment. This field has emerged as a
central component of sustainability science. As such, land-use science encompasses great
methodological diversity and inherently presents the opportunity to foster and enhance
interdisciplinarity (Aspinall, 2006). The JLUS has thus featured scholarship stemming
from geography, economics, sociology, forestry, environmental sciences and other dis-
ciplines. Aspinall (2006) demonstrated the growing importance of land use for scientific
inquiry by highlighting the mounting academic interest in land use, as measured by
scholarly publication. We reaffirm this trend, acknowledging the increasing number of
scholars who are trained in land-use science and update his original figure to show that
instances of the search term ‘land use’ in scientific publications continue to grow rapidly
(see Figure 1).
Land is and will remain a central theme in the study of coupled human-natural systems
and the JLUS will provide a central outlet for the publication of academic papers on all
aspects of land-use science. While a range of journals regularly publish research related to

© 2014 Taylor & Francis


134 D. Müller and D.K. Munroe

5000
Total number of articles: 48,951

4000

3000
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2000

1000

0
1975 1985 1995 2005 2013

Figure 1. Number of articles in Web of Knowledge with the search term ‘land use’ in title, abstract
or keywords.
Notes: The search replicated the search of Aspinall (2006). It was conducted on 12 January 2014
(2013 thus still incomplete) for the time span 1975–2013 in the databases Science Citation Index
Expanded (SCI-Expanded), Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) and Arts & Humanities Citation
Index (A&HCI).

land use, the JLUS has a key role to play in bringing together a variety of research
perspectives with a clear-cut focus on land systems.

Selected highlights of the JLUS


Throughout its history, the JLUS has featured cutting-edge scholarship advancing research
in the key dimensions of land-use science outlined by Turner et al. (2007), that is,
monitoring and mapping land change, understanding and modelling land dynamics as
well as synthesis and assessment of its outcomes. We briefly summarize some contribu-
tions here, with reference to some purposively selected papers.1

Monitoring and mapping


The field of land-use science prioritizes the derivation of critical spatial and temporal data
sets to measure and monitor land change; such data are simply otherwise not available.
The JLUS has featured a number of interdisciplinary papers that rely on the hybrid
mapping of land systems at global to continental scales. For example, Erb et al. (2007)
and Klein Goldewijk, Van Drecht, and Bouwman (2007) derive medium-resolution global
land-use data sets based on national statistical data and remotely sensed information, and
Schepaschenko et al. (2011) produce a continental-scale land-use map of Russia with high
Journal of Land Use Science 135

thematic detail. The JLUS has also published a range of articles that focused on new
methods to map land change at the landscape to regional scale, for instance relying on
multi-scale satellite data to derive cropland extent in Russia (de Beurs & Ioffe, in press)
and on using image texture to map field size (Kuemmerle, Hostert, St-Louis, & Radeloff,
2009). Other notable methodological contributions in mapping land-use change include
approaches to implement standards for characterization and validation of land-cover maps
(Herold, Latham, Di Gregorio, & Schmullius, 2006), analyses of the mismatch between
land use versus land cover (Comber, Wadsworth, & Fisher, 2008) and associated impacts
on land-change forecasts (Baker & Veldkamp, 2008).
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Understanding and modelling


The JLUS has included a number of influential papers that contribute to modelling
approaches to further our understanding of complex land systems. Robinson et al.
(2007) discuss methods for broadening the parametrization of agent-based models
with qualitative-, quantitative- and field-based techniques. Schreinemachers and Berger
(2006) argue that models of land-use decision that rely on rational optimization may not
be realistic in certain contexts and develop heuristic behavioural models for such
situations. Rindfuss et al. (2008) describe how complex systems science often provides
a framework for land-use science methods, particularly when agent–agent and agent–
environment interactions are key to the system of study. Sohl, Sayler, Drummond, and
Loveland (2007) present an integrated, spatially explicit simulation model to implement
scenario results. Finally, JLUS featured machine-learning approaches such as neural
network analysis of urban growth (Pijanowski, Alexandridis, & Müller, 2006) and
contributions to calculating the effect of input map error on land-use model output
(Pontius & Li, 2010).

Synthesis and assessing the outcomes


Developing a better understanding of land-use change at a variety of spatial and
temporal scales has been a core issue in the JLUS. For example, the JLUS included
qualitative examination of the causes leading to forest transition based on several case
studies areas in the Northern Carpathians (Kozak, Estreguil, & Troll, 2007) and spatial
statistical analysis of the determinants of cropland abandonment in Southern Romania
(Müller, Kuemmerle, Rusu, & Griffiths, 2009). Schößer, Helming, and Wiggering
(2010) explain how the concept of land function can be used to incorporate the social
dimensions of land systems into measures of ecosystem services. Cassidy, Binford,
Southworth, and Barnes (2010) argue that the diversity of land use/land cover is a
key indicator to compare change within and across socioecological systems and demon-
strate in a case study how and why it might vary by market access and topography.
Finally, Parker et al. (2008) discuss how to define and measure the concept of a ‘land-
use frontier’ to facilitate cross-site comparison. Generally speaking, examining both the
causes and consequences of land-use change requires integrating perspectives from a
broad range of disciplines, reconciling approaches from the social sciences as well as
from the natural sciences.
Land-use science is also a field of major contemporary policy relevance, a theme
frequently found in JLUS to date. Many papers in JLUS include some component to
assess the social and environmental implications of land change, as well as the often
complex outcomes of deliberate interventions into the land system. Gimona and Pohill
136 D. Müller and D.K. Munroe

(2011) examine how government policies interact with farmer decision-making processes
in the UK to shape ecological outcomes in terms of protecting key species. Trajectories of
land-use/cover change across time and space in Madre de Dios, Peru, can shed light on the
spatial and temporal effects of a shifting policy context (Chavez, in press). Schmidt,
Christensen, and Christensen (2009) assess indirect land-use impacts from European
biofuel policies on palm oil in Southeast Asia and on barley production in Canada.

Key contemporary research priorities


In this section, we identify what we see as some particularly promising frontiers for land-
use research that we wish to promote in JLUS in the near future. Three in particular stand
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out as especially timely (Seto & Reenberg, 2014): increasing global integration of
economies, rapid urbanization and rising competition for land. All of these trends shape
and are influenced by current challenges relating to climate change, land degradation and
decreasing availability of key production factors such as land, nutrients and water.

Globalization of land use


Recent research has underscored the dynamics of increasingly globalized land systems.
The underlying causes of land-use change in one location are often located in distant
places (Meyfroidt, Lambin, Erb, & Hertel, 2013). Such teleconnected land systems (Seto
et al., 2012) will likely have manifold consequences through such issues as ‘land grabs’ or
‘green grabs’ (large-scale acquisition of land through foreign actors), food security,
indirect land-use change and institutional arrangements that function through overlapping
networks of varying spatial extents (e.g., trade policies, payments for ecosystem services).
Along these lines, we encourage both conceptual and empirical papers to advance such
research.
The concept of teleconnections implies functional relationships of land-use change
across distal locations. Scholars have long realized that regions are not simply containers
of land-use drivers and outcomes (Geist & Lambin, 2002), but rather that flows of people,
capital and natural resources often span across great distances (Erb, Krausmann, Lucht, &
Haberl, 2009). To date, analyses of land-use change in multiple geographical regions have
carefully documented how land-use change in a specific local context may be profoundly
shaped by land-use policies in other locations. For example, forest protection in one place
often resulted in growing timber imports and the export of deforestation to neighbouring
locations (Meyfroidt, Rudel, & Lambin, 2010). Growing population and changing diets
also elevate land demand in distant locations because trade linkages increasingly enrol
land in global value chains (Kastner, Rivas, Koch, & Nonhebel, 2012).
It is conceptually challenging to incorporate analyses of teleconnections into a study
of land-use change. Satellite data, critical in monitoring land-use and land-cover change,
only yield snapshot information in space and time, and many aspects of land-use change
such as intensification processes are challenging to map from satellite images (Kuemmerle
et al., 2013). Secondary data, such as censuses of business or population, are often
assigned to a particular spatial unit. Moreover, the connections among global actors and
geographic regions may not be easily visible in typical hierarchies of data aggregation, for
example, as in carbon accounting by economic sector (Munksgaard & Pedersen, 2001).
By contrast, organizations are increasingly managing flows of goods rather than specific
territories (Sikor et al., 2013). Research underway has highlighted several productive
points of engagement. First, because cities are interconnected networks of flows, urban
Journal of Land Use Science 137

land uses should be studied as a global phenomenon (Elliott, Decker, Smith, Blake, &
Simpson, 2000), and greater elucidation of interurban linkages will shed light on how
urban systems function as well as their environmental impacts (Seto et al., 2012). Second,
authors have indicated that global corporate actors represent an increasingly critical, yet to
date relatively unexplored category of global change agents (Rudel, 2007). Third, Liu
et al. (2013) demonstrate that there may be layers of both direct and indirect socio-
ecological effects across space.

Urbanization
A second major trend is the rapid urbanization of the Earth. Recent estimates suggest that
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an additional 1.5 million km2 may be transformed to urban land uses by 2030 (Seto,
Fragkias, Güneralp, & Reilly, 2011). While this is a substantial area, the land-use footprint
of urbanization reaches far beyond the places directly affected, through attraction of
migratory labour, changes in consumption patterns and market conditions. Moreover,
the increasing separation of places of consumption and production brought about by
continuing urbanization has wide-ranging impacts because it entails the commercialization
of land-based production in often distant markets (Reenberg & Seto, 2014).
Urban centres are the central nodes of global activity as they concentrate political
influence, information and knowledge, financial capital and physical infrastructure that are
all necessary to allow teleconnections to thrive (Eakin et al., 2014). While urban centres
clearly have a pivotal role in shaping global land use, they are also the key places for
improving governance of land-use systems because they accommodate major land-use
and policy actors. The growing importance of the ‘urban era’ therefore calls for scientific
approaches that analyse processes across spatial and temporal scales and that emphasize
the actors and institutions that trigger change (Reenberg & Seto, 2014).
Along with this urbanization comes an unprecedented integration of rural and urban
systems. Irwin et al. (2009) coined the phrase ‘urban–rural spaces’ to indicate that binary
conceptualizations of an urban sphere contrasted with a rural sphere are no longer
empirically tenable. Economic, political, social and environmental integration from cities
to remote areas, along an urban to rural gradient, has been on the rise in North America
(Brown, Johnson, Loveland, & Theobald, 2005), Europe (Hoggart, 2012), Latin America
(Aguilar, Ward, & Smith, 2003) and Asia (Sui & Zeng, 2001). As a result, qualitatively
new spatial forms of development emerged, with lower densities along the urban–rural
fringe, new forms of social–environmental interdependencies (natural resources as input
to production or natural amenities for recreation) and implications for transportation
systems due to migration and commuting.

Rising competition for land


Rising demand for land-based products co-occurs with mounting environmental pressures
due to land degradation, climate change and increasing costs for key inputs for agricul-
tural production (e.g., nutrients, water and energy). As a result, land is becoming an
increasingly scarce resource in many places, leading to rising land values and increasing
competition between different land uses (e.g., between agriculture and conservation or
between production of food and fuel).
Increasing land scarcity and land competition has also fostered competition between
land-use actors and stimulated investments into agricultural production. Such investments
were often conducted by larger commercial entities and corporate actors, frequently
138 D. Müller and D.K. Munroe

grounded in distant places, and typically target countries with abundant land resources
(De Schutter, 2011; Deininger et al., 2011). However, the social, environmental and
political implications of such land transactions are often unclear and negative effects on
local populations have been reported (Aldrich, Walker, Simmons, Caldas, & Perz, 2012).
Moreover, the implications are far from well understood and vary substantially from place
to place, but their effects on local, regional and global food security warrant careful
attention from the land-use science community.
In addition, conservation is emerging as a globally significant land use. Traditionally,
competition between conservation and other land uses has been fairly low as protected
areas have typically been established in remote areas far away from markets or in
mountain areas (Joppa & Pfaff, 2009). An expanding protected area network (Jenkins &
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Joppa, 2009), new (e.g., private) conservation actors and the rise of payment for ecosys-
tem services schemes all suggest that the historically low competition between conserva-
tion and production-oriented land uses may be increasing, and hence the competition
between production and conservation warrants increasing scientific attention (Grau,
Kuemmerle, & Macchi, 2013; Haberl et al., 2014).
Surging biodiversity losses and land scarcity have also spurred much research recently
on how to best align conservation and production across landscapes. While some scholars
argue that these land uses should best be kept separate, allowing for intensifying production
in some places in order to spare land for nature elsewhere (Green, Cornell, Scharlemann, &
Balmford, 2005) (so-called ‘land sparing’), others advocate integration (i.e., ‘land-sharing’)
and for considering ecosystem service bundles, environmental cost and attention to the
impacts on rural livelihoods. As socioecological trade-offs will be spatially and temporally
dynamic and context-specific, no silver bullet seems to exist (Fischer et al., 2008). Land-use
scientists should help to move forward in the sharing/sparing debate by helping to better
understand, for example, the role of scale and teleconnections, the importance of spatial
heterogeneity in land productivity and biodiversity, the social and ecosystem benefits that
mixed systems may provide and the multiple political and economic mechanisms available
to tackle these issues (Grau et al., 2013; Nagendra, Reyers, & Lavorel, 2013; Verburg,
Mertz, Erb, Haberl, & Wu, 2013).
Finally, the increase in competition for land is also driven by climate change. Changes
in the climate can increase or decrease the productivity of ecosystems and induce changes
to land management such as delays in sowing dates. Conversely, changes in land use also
affect the climate system through emission of greenhouse gases, most notably through its
impact on the carbon cycle. The JLUS welcomes contributions that tackle such complex
direct and indirect interactions between climate change and land use. For example, we are
interested in contributions that examine how to reduce land-use emissions through pay-
ments for ecosystem services, such as in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest
degradation (REDD) and other carbon market mechanisms. Besides research into emis-
sion mitigation through land use, we are also interested in contributions that address the
adaptation of land systems to changing climate conditions.

Summary
We plan to advance the record of excellent scholarship in JLUS and enhance the coverage
of important and timely issues. We intend to be responsive to the needs of the larger
research community concerned with land change. Over the next years, our priority is to
increase the efficiency of manuscript review and get high-quality papers published more
quickly, with greater involvement of the editorial board. In addition, we plan to increase
Journal of Land Use Science 139

the visibility and impact of the journal, with the goal of obtaining a journal impact factor
for inclusion in the Web of Science as soon as possible.
The JLUS is not directly affiliated with any scientific organization or research net-
work, but provides an important outlet for the members of academic networks such as the
Global Land Project (www.globallandproject.org) as well as for land-use scientists con-
tributing to the new Future Earth programme. We also hope to maintain and increase the
visibility of this journal among disciplinary organizations such the Association of
American Geographers, International Association of Landscape Ecology and the
International Geographical Union, among others.
The JLUS is ideally placed to contribute key scientific advances to address above
challenges and to contribute deep evidence on how to steer future land use towards
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sustainable pathways. This journal has a critical role to play for the land-use community.
It publishes an array of research from conceptual and theoretical, to methodological, to
policy analyses, to empirical case studies and cross-site comparisons. At the same time,
land use is the key organizing principle that connects all this research. We especially
encourage papers with novel contributions to one or more of the above areas. With the
increasing availability of outlets for research on interdisciplinary land-use science, we
affirm our commitment to retaining the niche of JLUS as the best outlet for interdisci-
plinary research on land-use systems.

Acknowledgements
We are grateful to feedback from Dan Brown, Karlheinz Erb, Tobias Kuemmerle, Patrick Meyfroidt,
Dawn Parker, Anette Reenberg and Peter Verburg on earlier drafts of this manuscript.

Note
1. These papers were selected on the basis of their citation counts in Google Scholar, as well as
those papers highlighted as the most often read or downloaded from the journal’s website
(http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tlus).

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Daniel Müller
Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition
Economies (IAMO), Halle (Saale), Germany
Geography Department, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin,
Berlin, Germany
mueller@iamo.de
Darla K. Munroe
Department of Geography, Ohio State University,
Columbus, OH, USA
munroe.9@osu.edu