NCBI Bookshelf. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

National Research Council (US) Panel on New Research on Population and the Environment; Entwisle B, Stern PC, editors. Population, Land Use, and Environment: Research Directions. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2005.

Cover of Population, Land Use, and Environment

Population, Land Use, and Environment: Research Directions.

Show details


The interactions of human population growth and migration with environmental quality have long been a topic of debate among demographers, natural scientists, and other observers. A recent expansion of empirical research on the topic made it timely to review the state of the field to set an agenda for research in the coming decade. To this end, with the support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and with input from the Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change, the Panel on New Research on Population and the Environment of the National Research Council (NRC) organized a workshop to bring together social and natural scientists to discuss results from ongoing research projects, as well as to find ways to enhance the exchange of knowledge among disciplines.

Empirical research on population and environment can be divided into four major categories. Studies have focused on population effects that operate either primarily via change in land and water use (e.g., deforestation, habitat fragmentation, water pollution, introduction of exotic species) or primarily via industrial processes (e.g., emissions of pollutants to atmosphere or waterways). Studies below the global scale have tended to focus either on processes in developing countries or on processes in wealthy countries. Research exists in each cell of the implied table, although more attention has been given to some cells than others. In particular, recent empirical research has emphasized population-environment linkages that operate via change in land use. In order to adequately reflect and incorporate a full range of disciplinary diversity and variability in field site and situation, the committee decided to focus the workshop on this linkage.

Given a focus on land use as the link between population and environment, the 1993 NRC volume Population and Land Use in Developing Countries was a natural point of departure. Since its publication, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health developed a program on population, land use, and environment and funded a number of research projects, some of which are represented in the papers assembled for the workshop and this volume. Related programs at the National Science Foundation and at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration were also important sources of support. These projects, too, are represented. The research on population, land use, and environment in the 1990s and early 2000s was scientifically much stronger than in the past. It also began to open new research directions and suggest new hypotheses that should be pursued. This is why the time was ripe for an effort to collect some of the best recent research, review its strengths and weaknesses, and discuss the implications for future directions.

Through consultations with experts in population and environment, including experts from both the behavioral and social sciences and the biological and ecological sciences, the committee identified an interdisciplinary group of researchers who could contribute to assessing and advancing research on interrelations between population, land use, and the environment.

The first task of the Panel on New Research in Population and the Environment was to organize the workshop. Its overall goal was to assess and advance research on interrelations between population and the environment, with a particular focus on environmental effects of population changes mediated by land use change. More specific goals of the workshop were to

  • present research reflecting the state of the art in empirical work and conceptual and integrative research that promises to advance empirical knowledge;
  • point toward more sophisticated analysis of population and environmental variables in research on human-environment interactions;
  • demonstrate modes of collaboration between social scientists and natural scientists on population-environment research by including joint presentations by social scientists and natural scientists from the same research groups;
  • examine closely how particular demographic processes interact with environmental processes, particularly separating effects of natural increase from those of migration;
  • examine the multiple determinants of population behavior, considering the effects of cultural, economic, and biophysical context on population-environment relations; and
  • examine the empirical research in light of available integrative concepts in order to define research directions that can lead to more rapid accumulation and integration of knowledge.

The second task of the panel was to synthesize the results of the workshop, describing the progress that has been made, evaluating strengths and weaknesses, and identifying unanswered questions and to make recommendations about directions for future research in this area. The panel organized the workshop around a set of interdisciplinary studies of population, land use, and environment in a wide variety of settings. Of particular interest were detailed, ongoing, longitudinal, site-based studies being done by research teams that include both social and natural scientists. The selection of studies to include was guided by a rubric that distinguished between disciplinary starting point and research setting. The studies selected represent different starting points in social science (primarily demography) and natural science (primarily ecology) yet include both perspectives. Research settings for the studies cover urban and rural contexts in developing and wealthy countries. Some cells of the implied 2 × 2 × 2 table are populated by many excellent studies that met our criteria (especially rural site-based studies in developing countries), whereas other cells are sparser (e.g., urban site-based studies in developing countries). In some instances, the choice of which study to include was difficult. Selections were made in such a way as to feature disciplinary diversity and regional variability. The panel also thought that it was important to include a global perspective. In the workshop, the strengths and limitations of the studies were discussed from social science and natural science perspectives to identify potentially fruitful areas for future progress and collaboration.

Representatives of the research projects were invited to attend a two-day workshop, which was held January 14-16, 2004, at the Beckman Center of the National Academies in Irvine, California. Authors were asked to write papers that identified the important research questions for their project and study site; explained how they conceptualized connections between population, land use, and environment; described the research designs and statistical techniques they have used; provided an overview of their major findings; and reflected on the challenges and benefits of integrating social science and natural science perspectives. Authors were asked to tell the story of their projects and to summarize the major findings, citing more technical reports of the research that are available. Revised versions of these papers appear as chapters in Part II of this volume, in the order that they are cited in Part I, the panel's report itself.

The workshop was organized around groupings of papers and related discussion. The papers by John Weeks and colleagues on Cairo, Egypt, and by Charles Redman on metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona, were paired. Both address rapid demographic and land use change in urban areas in desert environments, but they do so from sharply different perspectives. The papers by Pamela Matson and colleagues on the Yaqui Valley, Mexico, and Myron Gutmann and colleagues on the U.S. Great Plains both address change in agricultural regions with considerable dependence on irrigation, but the initial orientation and questions differ. The papers by Jack Liu and colleagues on Wolong Nature Reserve, China, and Andrew Foster on rural India have in common an interest in tensions between economic development and the maintenance of common-pool resources (bamboo forest and endangered pandas in China and commonly held forest lands in India), but they differ dramatically in methods and approach. The papers by Karen Seto on the Pearl River Delta in China and Red River Delta in Vietnam, by Stephen Walsh and colleagues on Nang Rong, Thailand, and by Emilio Moran and colleagues on the Brazilian Amazon, all focus on land use change to and from agriculture, although in vastly different cultural, historical, social, and economic contexts. The paper by Günther Fischer and Brian O'Neill addresses issues of global modeling.

Discussion at the workshop was lively and covered a wide variety of topics, including a few discussions of larger issues and integrative challenges. A discussion of the difficulties of joining social science and natural science approaches addressed a range of concerns, from the absence of a fully developed conceptual model of the coupled human-natural system to very practical issues related to the time and resources needed for integrative research. A discussion of the challenges of linking the site-based studies to regional and global models addressed the issue of the generalizability of site-based studies. Another cross-cutting discussion addressed how spatial, temporal, and institutional contexts relate to cross-scale linkages and to the integration of different approaches to the study of population, land use, and environment. Yet another considered the roles of social institutions in mediating population–land use–environment relationships, which arose in every paper prepared for the workshop. A final panel discussion addressed data and methods needed for further progress in the modeling of complexity and answering questions about cause and effect.

This volume would not have been possible without resources provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the generous contribution of time and energy from many experts in the field. In addition to standing members of the NRC Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change, Rebecca Clark, Pamela Matson, Fred Myerson, and Holly Reed participated in the initial framing of the project. Each signed paper in this volume, regardless of orientation, was sent to a social scientist and to a natural scientist for review. The goal was a collection of papers that would be viewed as useful to a broad audience. We are most grateful to the following reviewers for their comments on the papers and for their critiques and suggestions as to how papers might be improved: Deborah Balk, Columbia University; Lawrence Brown, Ohio State University; Sara R. Curran, Princeton University; Erle C. Ellis, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Christine Goodale, Cornell University; Flora Lu Holt, University of North Carolina; Richard Houghton, Woods Hole Research Center; Lori Hunter, University of Colorado; Marc Imhoff, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Leiwen Jiang, Brown University; Randall Kuhn, University of Colorado; Landis MacKellar, The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA); George Malanson, University of Iowa; William Moomaw, Tufts University; Barry R. Noon, Colorado State University; Diane Pataki, University of Utah; Pete Richerson, University of California, Davis; Cynthia Rosenzweig, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Donald Worster, University of Kansas; and Xingming Xiao, University of New Hampshire. We are grateful for their thoughtful comments and suggestions as well as their attention to detail.

The review process for the panel's overview and recommendations chapters followed formal NRC procedures.

This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the Report Review Committee of the NRC. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making the published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.

We thank the following individuals for their participation in the review of this report: Richard Bilsborrow, Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Thomas H. Dietz, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, College of Natural Science and College of Social Science, Michigan State University; Robert Kates, independent scholar, Trenton, Maine; Geoffrey McNicoll, Population Council, New York; Harold A. Mooney, Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University; Robert Repetto, Stratus Consulting, Inc., Boulder, Colorado; Barbara Boyle Torrey, Population Reference Bureau, Washington, DC; and Billie Lee Turner, Graduate School of Geography, Clark University.

Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by John Bongaarts, Population Council, New York. Appointed by the NRC, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.

Barbara Entwisle, Chair

Panel on New Research on Population and the Environment

Copyright © 2005, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK22954


  • PubReader
  • Print View
  • Cite this Page
  • PDF version of this title (15M)

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...