Land Use Change

Land Use Change

One of the most profound effects that humans have on the environment is often taken for granted. Conversion of land – whether from forests to housing or from one type of farming to another – causes deep and often lasting changes in local, regional, and sometimes global systems.

When landowners switch from ranching to agriculture, it changes not only the temperature and nutrient load in their local streams, but also the biodiversity of downstream rivers and the amount of carbon stored or emitted from pastures and fields. But understanding these ecological effects is only part of the picture. It’s also essential to know how agricultural markets, demographic changes, and economic expectations affect ranchers’ choices. 

When houses, schools, and stores replace undeveloped wetlands, it eliminates wildlife habitat, alters nutrient inputs, and changes flood dynamics. A host of social and economic factors also influence the choices made by developers, planners and individuals.

Only by incorporating social, economic, and ecological thinking can researchers hope to understand the complex web of feedbacks that determines the effects of land use change on global and regional systems.

Several ECI investigators are pursuing research that unravels these connections. ECI participates in the Land Use/Land Cover Change (LULCC) working group at Brown and sponsored a workshop in November 2006 that brought together LULCC researchers from Brown and the Marine Biological Laboratory to discover areas of shared interest.

Brown's GIS facilities are especially important in this area of research.