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Linking Land Change with Driving Forces and Actors: Four Conceptual Models

Anna M. Hersperger, Land Use Dynamics Unit, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL
Maria-Pia Gennaio, Swiss Federal Research Institute Agroscope ART
Peter H. Verburg, Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University Amsterdam
Matthias Bürgi, Land Use Dynamics Unit, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL


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Models in land change research are often chosen arbitrarily based on practical rather than theoretical considerations. More specifically, research on land change is often based on a research framework with three crucial elements – driving forces, actors, and land change – in an ad hoc and case-specific configuration. The lack of solid and widely applicable concepts about the conceptual link between these three elements can negatively affect individual research projects and hamper communication and generalizations beyond the individual project. We present four basic models for linking land change with driving forces and actors. These models are illustrated with examples from the research literature. Based on the main characteristics of the models and practical considerations, we propose guidelines for choosing among the four models for specific studies. More generally, we want to raise awareness that land change research is especially demanding with respect to conceptual backgrounds and that conceptual considerations will help improve the scientific quality of individual studies as well as their potential contribution towards generic theories of land change.

Key words

conceptualization; guidelines; land change modeling; land cover change; land use; model selection; organizational heuristic

Copyright © 2010 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work 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