Exploring subtle land use and land cover changes: a framework for future landscape studies

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Land cover and land use changes can have a wide variety of ecological effects, including significant impacts on soils and water quality. In rural areas, even subtle changes in farming practices can affect landscape features and functions, and consequently the environment. Fine-scale analyses have to be performed to better understand the land cover change processes. At the same time, models of land cover change have to be developed in order to anticipate where changes are more likely to occur next. Such predictive information is essential to propose and implement sustainable and efficient environmental policies. Future landscape studies can provide a framework to forecast how land use and land cover changes is likely to react differently to subtle changes. This paper proposes a four step framework to forecast landscape futures at fine scales by coupling scenarios and landscape modelling approaches. This methodology has been tested on two contrasting agricultural landscapes located in the United States and France, to identify possible landscape changes based on forecasting and backcasting agriculture intensification scenarios. Both examples demonstrate that relatively subtle land cover and land use changes can have a large impact on future landscapes. Results highlight how such subtle changes have to be considered in term of quantity, location, and frequency of land use and land cover to appropriately assess environmental impacts on water pollution (France) and soil erosion (US). The results highlight opportunities for improvements in landscape modelling.

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This study was partly founded by the French Ministry of Research through the “Aires Culturelles” grant and by the CAREN (Centre Armoricain de Recherches en ENvironnement). Authors would like to thank all US and French farmers and actors for this co-investigation, J. Douvinet and D. Delahaye for the use of the Ruicells model. We would like to thank reviewers for their very helpful comments and suggestions on earlier draft.

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Houet, T., Loveland, T.R., Hubert-Moy, L. et al. Exploring subtle land use and land cover changes: a framework for future landscape studies. Landscape Ecol 25, 249–266 (2010) doi:10.1007/s10980-009-9362-8

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  • Scenarios
  • Modelling
  • Forecasting
  • Backcasting
  • Agriculture
  • Brittany
  • Corn-Belt
  • Prospective