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Anthropogenic Drivers of Ecosystem Change: an Overview

Gerald C Nelson, University of Illinois
Elena Bennett, McGill University
Asmeret A Berhe, University of California at Berkeley
Kenneth Cassman, University of Nebraska
Ruth DeFries, University of Maryland
Thomas Dietz, Michigan State University
Achim Dobermann, University of Nebraska
Andrew Dobson, Princeton University
Anthony Janetos, Joint Global Change Research Institute
Marc Levy, Columbia University
Diana Marco, Instituto Tecnológico de Chascomus (IIB-INTECH) CONICET
Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Vienna University of Technology
Brian O'Neill, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Richard Norgaard, University of California at Berkeley
Gerhard Petschel-Held
Dennis Ojima, Colorado State University
Prabhu Pingali, FAO
Robert Watson, World Bank
Monika Zurek, FAO


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This paper provides an overview of what the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) calls “indirect and direct drivers” of change in ecosystem services at a global level. The MA definition of a driver is any natural or human-induced factor that directly or indirectly causes a change in an ecosystem. A direct driver unequivocally influences ecosystem processes. An indirect driver operates more diffusely by altering one or more direct drivers. Global driving forces are categorized as demographic, economic, sociopolitical, cultural and religious, scientific and technological, and physical and biological. Drivers in all categories other than physical and biological are considered indirect. Important direct drivers include changes in climate, plant nutrient use, land conversion, and diseases and invasive species. This paper does not discuss natural drivers such as climate variability, extreme weather events, or volcanic eruptions.

Key words

ecosystem services; drivers of change; direct drivers; indirect drivers; demographic drivers; economic drivers; sociopolitical drivers; cultural and religious drivers; scientific and technological drivers; physical and biological drivers; climate change; plant nutrient use; land conversion; diseases; invasive species

Copyright © 2006 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087