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PLoS One. 2010 Dec 15;5(12):e14327. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014327.

Projecting global land-use change and its effect on ecosystem service provision and biodiversity with simple models.

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  • 1The Natural Capital Project, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America. enelson2@bowdoin.edu



As the global human population grows and its consumption patterns change, additional land will be needed for living space and agricultural production. A critical question facing global society is how to meet growing human demands for living space, food, fuel, and other materials while sustaining ecosystem services and biodiversity [1].


We spatially allocate two scenarios of 2000 to 2015 global areal change in urban land and cropland at the grid cell-level and measure the impact of this change on the provision of ecosystem services and biodiversity. The models and techniques used to spatially allocate land-use/land-cover (LULC) change and evaluate its impact on ecosystems are relatively simple and transparent [2]. The difference in the magnitude and pattern of cropland expansion across the two scenarios engenders different tradeoffs among crop production, provision of species habitat, and other important ecosystem services such as biomass carbon storage. For example, in one scenario, 5.2 grams of carbon stored in biomass is released for every additional calorie of crop produced across the globe; under the other scenario this tradeoff rate is 13.7. By comparing scenarios and their impacts we can begin to identify the global pattern of cropland and irrigation development that is significant enough to meet future food needs but has less of an impact on ecosystem service and habitat provision.


Urban area and croplands will expand in the future to meet human needs for living space, livelihoods, and food. In order to jointly provide desired levels of urban land, food production, and ecosystem service and species habitat provision the global society will have to become much more strategic in its allocation of intensively managed land uses. Here we illustrate a method for quickly and transparently evaluating the performance of potential global futures.

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