Nwoya District (Uganda). Credit: Mariola Acosta, Research Fellow IITA/CCAFS


Globalized markets, decisions by distant governments, and global agenda setting (e.g. in light of global change) influence local land use decisions to an ever increasing degree. Land System Science has taken up the challenge to both enhance our understanding of the interaction of  coupled human-environmental system in a telecoupled world as well as providing new frameworks and concepts to approach it in terms of enhancing evidence based decision and policy making.  

Land-use and land-cover changes have contributed substantially to climate change and are expected to continue to do so in the future due to the release of large quantities of carbon when natural ecosystems (mostly forests) are converted into croplands or pastures, or due to changes in management or land-use intensity.

Land systems are increasingly affected by changes in global governance and wider revalorizations of land, and in turn influence the wider transformations in governance and value.

Ecosystem services are supplied directly by natural capital, i.e. the major components of the land system: soil, water, vegetation and other biotic components. Land use decisions therefore have direct bearing on natural capital and ecosystem services supply. The impacts of these decisions typically unfold at local to regional scales, affecting local livelihoods that depend on ecosystem services and biodiversity.

Virulent knowledge gaps relate to aspects of land management and livestock systems. Dynamics, drivers as well as socio-ecological changes in management, e.g. in land-use intensity, remain still underresearched, but preliminary evidence indicates that land management changes could be associated with significant impacts on key parameters of the Earth system.

Over half of the world’s population already lives in cities, with a massive increase in urban population projected by 2050, and an anticipated increase in urban land cover that is about twice the increase in urban population. Thus, protecting and restoring urban ecosystems is an important issue for sustainable urbanization. 

Land systems play a critical role in conflict, as both causes of conflict and as victims of conflict. Competition for land resources is a major cause of conflict between and within nations and there can be significant impacts on land from violent conflicts.