Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 715–732 | Cite as

Archetypical patterns and trajectories of land systems in Europe

  • Christian LeversEmail author
  • Daniel Müller
  • Karlheinz Erb
  • Helmut Haberl
  • Martin Rudbeck Jepsen
  • Marc J. Metzger
  • Patrick Meyfroidt
  • Tobias Plieninger
  • Christoph Plutzar
  • Julia Stürck
  • Peter H. Verburg
  • Pieter J. Verkerk
  • Tobias Kuemmerle
Original Article


Assessments of land-system change have dominantly focused on conversions among broad land-use categories, whereas intensity changes within these categories have received less attention. Considering that both modes of land change typically result in diverse patterns and trajectories of land-system change, there is a need to develop approaches to reduce this complexity. Using Europe as a case study, we applied a clustering approach based on self-organising maps and 12 land-use indicators to map (1) land-system archetypes for the year 2006, defined as characteristic patterns of land-use extent and intensity, and (2) archetypical change trajectories, defined as characteristic changes in these indicators between 1990 and 2006. Our analysis identified 15 land-system archetypes, with low-intensity archetypes dominating (ca. 55 % coverage) followed by high-intensity archetypes (ca. 26 %). In terms of change, we identified 17 archetypical change trajectories, clustered in four broad categories. Stable land systems were most widespread (ca. 40 % of the EU27), followed by land systems characterised by land-use conversions (ca. 26 %), de-intensification trends (ca. 18 %), and intensification trends (ca. 15 %). Intensively used and intensifying land systems were particularly widespread in Western Europe, whereas low-intensity and de-intensifying land systems dominated in Europe’s east. Comparing our archetypes with environmental and socio-economic factors revealed that good accessibility and favourable topographic, climatic, and soil conditions characterised intensively managed areas. Intensification was also most common in these areas, suggesting an ongoing polarisation of intensification in favourable areas and de-intensification and abandonment trends in more marginal areas. By providing spatially and thematically improved maps of land-use patterns and changes therein, our archetypes could serve as useful inputs for more detailed assessments of ecosystem service demand and supply, as well as explorations of land-system change trade-offs, especially with regard to land-use intensity. Further, they could serve useful for identifying regions within which similar policy tools could be valuable to develop regionalised, context-specific land-management policies to steer European land systems onto desired pathways.


Land-system change Land-use intensity Europe Land management Landscape Automated clustering 



This research was funded by the European Commission (Projects VOLANTE, No. 265104, HERCULES, No. 603447, and LUISE, No. 263522) and by the Einstein Foundation Berlin (EJF-2011-76). We would like to thank Anette Reenberg, Jonas Østergaard Nielsen, and Patrick Hostert for fruitful discussions and comments on earlier manuscript drafts. We also would like to thank the editor-in-chief W. Cramer and two anonymous reviewers for thorough and very constructive comments. This research contributes to the Global Land Project (

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Levers
    • 1
    Email author
  • Daniel Müller
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Karlheinz Erb
    • 4
  • Helmut Haberl
    • 3
    • 4
  • Martin Rudbeck Jepsen
    • 5
  • Marc J. Metzger
    • 6
  • Patrick Meyfroidt
    • 7
    • 8
  • Tobias Plieninger
    • 9
  • Christoph Plutzar
    • 4
  • Julia Stürck
    • 10
  • Peter H. Verburg
    • 10
  • Pieter J. Verkerk
    • 11
  • Tobias Kuemmerle
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Geography DepartmentHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO)Halle (Saale)Germany
  3. 3.Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys)Humboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  4. 4.Institute of Social Ecology ViennaAlpen-Adria Universität KlagenfurtVienna, GrazAustria
  5. 5.Section of Geography, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource ManagementUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen KDenmark
  6. 6.School of GeoSciencesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghScotland, UK
  7. 7.Georges Lemaître Centre for Earth and Climate Research, Earth and Life InstituteUniversité catholique de LouvainLouvain-La-NeuveBelgium
  8. 8.Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique – FNRSBrusselsBelgium
  9. 9.Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource ManagementUniversity of CopenhagenFrederiksberg CDenmark
  10. 10.Institute for Environmental StudiesVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  11. 11.Sustainability and Climate Change ProgrammeEuropean Forest Institute (EFI)JoensuuFinland

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