Spatial modeling of agricultural land use change at global scale

Prasanth Meiyappan, Michael Dalton, Brian C. O'Neill, Atul K. Jain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Long-term modeling of agricultural land use is central in global scale assessments of climate change, food security, biodiversity, and climate adaptation and mitigation policies. We present a global-scale dynamic land use allocation model and show that it can reproduce the broad spatial features of the past 100 years of evolution of cropland and pastureland patterns. The modeling approach integrates economic theory, observed land use history, and data on both socioeconomic and biophysical determinants of land use change, and estimates relationships using long-term historical data, thereby making it suitable for long-term projections. The underlying economic motivation is maximization of expected profits by hypothesized landowners within each grid cell. The model predicts fractional land use for cropland and pastureland within each grid cell based on socioeconomic and biophysical driving factors that change with time. The model explicitly incorporates the following key features: (1) land use competition, (2) spatial heterogeneity in the nature of driving factors across geographic regions, (3) spatial heterogeneity in the relative importance of driving factors and previous land use patterns in determining land use allocation, and (4) spatial and temporal autocorrelation in land use patterns.We show that land use allocation approaches based solely on previous land use history (but disregarding the impact of driving factors), or those accounting for both land use history and driving factors by mechanistically fitting models for the spatial processes of land use change do not reproduce well long-term historical land use patterns. With an example application to the terrestrial carbon cycle, we show that such inaccuracies in land use allocation can translate into significant implications for global environmental assessments. The modeling approach and its evaluation provide an example that can be useful to the land use, Integrated Assessment, and the Earth system modeling communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)152-174
Number of pages23
JournalEcological Modelling
StatePublished - Nov 10 2014


  • Drivers
  • Integrated assessment
  • Land change
  • Prediction
  • Spatially explicit
  • Validation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling


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