Land use intensification increasingly drives the spatiotemporal patterns of the global human appropriation of net primary production in the last century

Related GLP Member: Sarah Matej, Simone Gingrich, Helmut Haberl, Florian Schwarzmüller, Karlheinz Erb


Land use has greatly transformed Earth's surface. While spatial reconstructions of how the extent of land cover and land-use types have changed during the last century are available, much less information exists about changes in land-use intensity. In particular, global reconstructions that consistently cover land-use intensity across land-use types and ecosystems are missing. We, therefore, lack understanding of how changes in land-use intensity interfere with the natural processes in land systems. To address this research gap, we map land-cover and land-use intensity changes between 1910 and 2010 for 9 points in time. We rely on the indicator framework of human appropriation of net primary production (HANPP) to quantify and map land-use-induced alterations of the carbon flows in ecosystems. We find that, while at the global aggregate level HANPP growth slowed down during the century, the spatial dynamics of changes in HANPP were increasing, with the highest change rates observed in the most recent past. Across all biomes, the importance of changes in land-use areas has declined, with the exception of the tropical biomes. In contrast, increases in land-use intensity became the most important driver of HANPP across all biomes and settings. We conducted uncertainty analyses by modulating input data and assumptions, which indicate that the spatial patterns of land use and potential net primary production are the most critical factors, while spatial allocation rules and uncertainties in overall harvest values play a smaller role. Highlighting the increasing role of land-use intensity compared to changes in the areal extent of land uses, our study supports calls for better integration of the intensity dimension into global analyses and models. On top of that, we provide important empirical input for further analyses of the sustainability of the global land system.