Landscape Ecology

, Volume 22, Issue 10, pp 1447–1459 | Cite as

Agent-based land-use models: a review of applications

  • Robin B. Matthews
  • Nigel G. Gilbert
  • Alan Roach
  • J. Gary Polhill
  • Nick M. Gotts


Agent-based modelling is an approach that has been receiving attention by the land use modelling community in recent years, mainly because it offers a way of incorporating the influence of human decision-making on land use in a mechanistic, formal, and spatially explicit way, taking into account social interaction, adaptation, and decision-making at different levels. Specific advantages of agent-based models include their ability to model individual decision-making entities and their interactions, to incorporate social processes and non-monetary influences on decision-making, and to dynamically link social and environmental processes. A number of such models are now beginning to appear—it is timely, therefore, to review the uses to which agent-based land use models have been put so far, and to discuss some of the relevant lessons learnt, also drawing on those from other areas of simulation modelling, in relation to future applications. In this paper, we review applications of agent-based land use models under the headings of (a) policy analysis and planning, (b) participatory modelling, (c) explaining spatial patterns of land use or settlement, (d) testing social science concepts and (e) explaining land use functions. The greatest use of such models so far has been by the research community as tools for organising knowledge from empirical studies, and for exploring theoretical aspects of particular systems. However, there is a need to demonstrate that such models are able to solve problems in the real world better than traditional modelling approaches. It is concluded that in terms of decision support, agent-based land-use models are probably more useful as research tools to develop an underlying knowledge base which can then be developed together with end-users into simple rules-of-thumb, rather than as operational decision support tools.


Agent-based modelling Land-use Complexity Policy analysis Interactions Decision-making 



We acknowledge financial support for this work under Development Activity RES-224-25-0102 of the Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) Programme, jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robin B. Matthews
    • 1
  • Nigel G. Gilbert
    • 2
  • Alan Roach
    • 2
  • J. Gary Polhill
    • 1
  • Nick M. Gotts
    • 1
  1. 1.Integrated Land Use Systems GroupMacaulay InstituteCraigiebuckler, AberdeenUK
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of SurreyGuildford, SurreyUK

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