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Head of Research Group

Prof. Dr. Mark Rounsevell


Research Group: Land Use Change


1.    To advance knowledge of the causes and consequences of change in socio-ecological systems from local to global scales by focusing on:

  1. Understanding the fundamental principles that underpin the interactions between people and their environment and encoding these principles in models of human and biophysical terrestrial systems (land systems, ecosystems, social systems and the climate system)
  2. Evaluating global change futures, including changes arising from climate (variability), social preferences, economics, technology and policy governance
  3. Analysing the interplay between the human and biophysical components of the Earth System, including the uncertainties associated with our representation of these processes in models

2.    To contribute to major international research initiatives in this field such as Future Earth (e.g. the iLEAPS, AIMES, GLP projects), CSDMS, IPCC, IPBES, CBD, UNFCCC, …

The Land-Use Change group cooperates closely with the IMK-IFU group on Plant-Atmosphere Interactions in the field of ecosystem modelling.


Key research fields and questions

1.    1. Land use & land cover change (at multiple scales)

  • What determines the decisions that underpin land use intensification versus extensification (expanding land use areas)?
  • What feedbacks occur in land systems, e.g. runaway intensification, urbanisation etc.?
  • What are the pros and cons of landscape multi-functionality?
  • What multiple goals can be achieved through alternative land use configurations at the food-energy-water nexus?
  • What is the role of institutions in land use change and how do they affect change?
  • What is the role of global tele-connections in causing indirect land use change?
  • How can uncertainty in these processes be better represented and constrained?

2.    2. Global food systems & security

  • What do we need to know to produce better food system/security models?
  • What are the pertinent things we want to capture in food system/security models, and how do we do so?
  • How can an understanding of past land use change help in parameterising models of the food system, e.g. the spread of agriculture, colonisation of continents?
  • How does the role of climate change mitigation policy (i.e. bioenergy) versus the role of societal preferences (i.e. changes in diets, food waste) affect sustainable global food systems?
  • Can we identify appropriate balances between food production efficiency and food security at different scales?

3.    3. Human decision making in land use and environmental change

  • How can we better capture theory in agent-based models (ABM) in order to represent key drivers and processes?
  • How can the Agent Functional Type concept, empirical grounding and theoretical considerations support ABMs?
  • What are the basic building blocks of human decision-making and how can these processes be better represented in models, e.g. diffusion of knowledge and innovation?
  • What are the impacts and/or constraints of culture on land use decisions?
  • What are the relationships between environmental and social (institutional) structures?
  • To what extend does economic rationality prevail in different parts of the world and what are the reasons for these geographic differences?
  • How do inequality and absolute economic levels affect land use change?
  • How can ‘syndromes’ of human-environment relationships support understanding of land use change?

4.    4. Feedbacks from the land surface to the climate system

  • How can feedbacks from the land surface to the climate system be modelled (for instance, building on ongoing developments in the coupling of model components PLUM-LPJ-GUESS-Imogen, or contributing to coupling high resolution vegetation-climate models at regional scales)?
  • What are the wider impacts of land-based mitigation on the environment (not just the climate system), e.g. biodiversity, habitats, …?
  • How can we better incorporate more/new adaptation & mitigation strategies in land use models, e.g. land-based, negative emission’s targets such as biochar, novel combinations of land use and ‘net-zero’ agriculture?

5.    5. Ecosystem processes and state, natural capital and the derived ecosystem services

  • How do we understand the reliance of societies on ecosystem services?
  • Are ecosystem service demands real? What is essential and what is simply desirable?
  • When do thresholds in ecosystem service supply and demand occur?
  • Are there categories/groups of land uses with meaningfully distinct consequences for ecosystem service provision?
  • How does land use change affect ecosystem service provision, and when is this/is this not sustainable?
  • Is there a point at which socio-ecological systems cannot adapt to environmental change?
  • What are the major ecosystem processes that relate to land use, climate change and related feedbacks?
  • How can we better understand the processes that underpin changes in forest cover, forest use and ecology?

6.    6. Climate change impacts and adaptation assessment

  • How can we better understand climate change adaptation processes and represent these in models?
  • At which level in societal governance structures does adaptation occur, e.g. institutional organisations, societal responses and individual action?
  • How can we more realistically represent human behavioural drivers & responses to climate change in models?
  • What are the trade-offs in response to climate change, e.g. food production versus other ecosystem services?
  • How can models best account for multiple drivers, and the indirect effects arising from cross-sectoral interactions, i.e. applying and developing regional integrated assessment models?