Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 95–121 | Cite as

An agent-based model of groundwater over-exploitation in the Upper Guadiana, Spain

  • Georg HoltzEmail author
  • Claudia Pahl-Wostl
Original Article


Irrigated agriculture is a main user of groundwater. Achieving a sustainable use of groundwater will often require agricultural land-use changes such as shifting to entirely different kinds of crops and/or technologies. Enhanced understanding of land-use change is hence required for developing policies for a sustainable water future. We use an agent-based model to investigate the history of irrigated agriculture in the Upper Guadiana Basin, Spain, in order to learn about the influence of farmers’ characteristics on land-use change and associated groundwater over-use. A shift from vineyards and cereals to horticultural crops would provide a possibility for higher income with less water use. Such a shift cannot be observed historically. The model results suggest that risk aversion and path dependency are insufficient to explain this observation, and the organisational set-up of farms limiting the maximum labour force needs to be considered as additional explanatory factor. Furthermore, it is shown that different types of farms existing in the UGB can be expected to exhibit distinct responses to drivers of land-use change such as agricultural policies. It is concluded that a sound understanding of the social system making use of a resource is required to solve problems of resource over-use. This article demonstrates that agent-based models can be useful tools to enhance such an understanding even in situations of scarce and uncertain data that are often encountered when dealing with resource-use problems.


Agent-based model Land-use change Agriculture Groundwater Upper Guadiana Mancha Occidental aquifer 



The authors would like to thank Pedro Martínez-Santos, Gema Carmona, Marcela Brugnach, Geeske Scholz as well as four anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and constructive critique on previous versions of this article. We further thank Maite Aldaya, Pedro Zorilla and Celsa Peiteado for help in search for data.

Supplementary material

10113_2011_238_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (236 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 236 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Environmental Systems ResearchOsnabrueckGermany

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