Article recommendation — Land-use change: incorporating the frequency, sequence, time span, and magnitude of changes into ecological research

By Joern Fischer

I’d like to recommend the following paper:

Land-use change: incorporating the frequency, sequence, time span, and magnitude of changes into ecological research by Watson SJ, Luck GW, Spooner PG, Watson DM. Front Ecol Environ 2014 May; 12(4):241-9, DOI: 10.1890/130097

 Land use change is a key topic in biodiversity conservation. However, many ecologists treat land use change as a uni-directional, or one-off event. For example, they might distinguish between intact versus degraded vegetation, or they might consider an ongoing process of degradation (sometimes considering sudden changes or thresholds). Few ecologists have thought about the fact that land use may in fact change multiple times over relatively short time periods, thus creating a fluctuating mosaic of land covers.

This new paper provides a very nice way of thinking about the complexities caused by multiple land use changes happening one after the other. It deals with the frequency of land use change, the time span for which a given land cover exists in a particular location, and also how much of a contrast there is between the new land use and some prior or reference state.

In this context, the authors also raise a range of scale considerations (regarding temporal scale, spatial scale, and the resolution of underlying land cover maps or models), as well as thinking about how different ecological characteristics of target species would be affected by different temporal aspects of land cover change.

I think this is an excellent paper that landscape ecologists and conservation biologists should read because it provides a lot of food for new thoughts on how to think about landscape dynamics.

8 thoughts on “Article recommendation — Land-use change: incorporating the frequency, sequence, time span, and magnitude of changes into ecological research

  1. Hi Joern,

    Thanks for the recommendation. It’s nice to hear that you read the paper and found it worthwhile. Hopefully it helps draw attention to the complexity and dynamic nature of land-use change.

    All the best


    • Hi Rajkamal, I suggest you write to Simon Watson (who commented here already, too!), who is the lead author. I am sure he will send you a copy. Cheers — J

  2. Joern – thanks for the heads-up on this thought provoking and timely paper. The authors largely approach land use change (and its biotic implications) from a biodiversity conservation perspective (nothing wrong with that, incidentally!), but there are also likely to be considerable and far reaching implications for the utilitarian aspects of biodiversity, in terms of how land-use change affects ecosystem service generation and provision.

    Rapid, broadscale and dramatic land-use change leads to very considerable change to biological communities, but how does this translate into alterations in ecological function, and how is this felt by recipients of ecosystem services? Perhaps less of an issue in ‘some’ Australian agricultural systems, where ecosystem services may be technologically substituted to an extent, but a massive issue for many complex agro-ecological systems in developing countries where communities have a very high reliance on ecological processes for their production and livelihoods. In essence, how do biodiversity-driven ecological processes change when one moves from a complex array of species and communities to one that is greatly simplified? Plenty of literature out there on (for instance) arthropod communities becoming predator-depauperate when complex habitat is lost, for instance.

    Off topic, I only found this blog recently, and really enjoying it, so please keep the posts rolling.

    Cheers, Simon

    • Thanks Simon, good thoughts, and I’m sure the authors could (in the future) extend their thinking to ecosystem services. Thanks also for your comments on the blog — we’ll certainly try to keep it rolling! — J.

    • Hi Simon A,

      That’s a great point you raise about incorporating ecosystem services into more complex models of recurrent land-use change and it is something that I look forward to seeing in future studies. Although ecosystem services were considered in early drafts, unfortunately, it wasn’t a topic that we could fit into our initial paper and do justice to. Such is the curse of word limits. However, the same dynamics of land-use changes will affect ecosystem services as they do biota generally. Importantly, there is a need to understand how services will change with recurrent land-cover changes and recognition that this is not a one-off or unidirectional process. For example, in one of our study areas, land-covers have changed from native vegetation – cleared grazing land – wheat crops – almond plantations. Almond plantations support lots of native pollinators (check out Saunders et al, 2013 J Insect Cons). So rather than considering only how pollinators are affected by a one-off, unidirectional, land-use change (clearing of native vegetation), which results in degradation of the native pollinator community, we can see that recurrent land-use changes will result in fluctuations of the service in a landscape.

      In light of the extent of land that is managed by humans, future land-cover changes are inevitable. Thus, a critical question is: how will such ecosystem services be affected by the “regime” (i.e. the sequence, frequency and time-span) of recurrent changes?

      Simon W

  3. Thanks Joern – good to see land-use change being dealt with in such a multi-dimensional manner. Cheers, S

  4. Simon W,

    Great to hear from you. Fully understand why you didn’t include ecosystem services in the paper—there’s only so much space, as you say! Something that I think would be really interesting, is to apply one of the scenario-based ecosystem service assessment tools (e.g. InVEST, or Birdlife International’s new Toolkit, TESSA) to the chronosequence of land-use change described in your paper. Great point about pollination services — a lot of ecosystem services work tends to focus (naturally enough) on the benefits of predominantly native vegetation systems to agriculture, but your scenarios would probably be far more about the multidirectional flows of ecosystem services (and dis services) from one agricultural land-use type to another. Definitely one for future research!

    Talking of which, I am about to start a two-year gig with Bioversity International, looking at ecosystem services and land-use change in Cambodia and Zambia. I think that your multidimensional approach to land-use change would be a really good one to explore, if the data is available, in these areas. Will keep you posted on this!

    All the best, Simon A

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