Landscape Ecology

, Volume 32, Issue 11, pp 2205–2218 | Cite as

How do land-use legacies affect ecosystem services in United States cultural landscapes?

  • Carly ZiterEmail author
  • Rose A. Graves
  • Monica G. Turner
Research Article



Landscape-scale studies of ecosystem services (ES) have increased, but few consider land-use history. Historical land use may be especially important in cultural landscapes, producing legacies that influence ecosystem structure, function, and biota that in turn affect ES supply.


Our goal was to generate a conceptual framework for understanding when land-use legacies matter for ES supply in well-studied agricultural, urban, and exurban US landscapes.


We synthesized illustrative examples from published literature in which landscape legacies were demonstrated or are likely to influence ES.


We suggest three related conditions in which land-use legacies are important for understanding current ES supply. (1) Intrinsically slow ecological processes govern ES supply, illustrated for soil-based and hydrologic services impaired by slowly processed pollutants. (2) Time lags between land-use change and ecosystem responses delay effects on ES supply, illustrated for biodiversity-based services that may experience an ES debt. (3) Threshold relationships exist, such that changes in ES are difficult to reverse, and legacy lock-in disconnects contemporary landscapes from ES supply, illustrated by hydrologic services. Mismatches between contemporary landscape patterns and mechanisms underpinning ES supply yield unexpected patterns of ES.


Today’s land-use decisions will generate tomorrow’s legacies, and ES will be affected if processes underpinning ES are affected by land-use legacies. Research priorities include understanding effects of urban abandonment, new contaminants, and interactions of land-use legacies and climate change. Improved understanding of historical effects will improve management of contemporary ES, and aid in decision-making as new challenges to sustaining cultural landscapes arise.


Land-use change Urban ecosystems Exurban ecosystems Agricultural ecosystems Historical ecology 



We thank Matthias Bürgi for inviting us to develop this paper, and four anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback on an earlier version. We acknowledge funding from the US National Science Foundation, especially the Long-term Ecological Research (DEB-1440297 and DEB-1440485) and Water, Sustainability and Climate (DEB-1038759) Programs, and support to MGT from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Vilas Trust. CZ acknowledges support from a Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada doctoral fellowship.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carly Ziter
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rose A. Graves
    • 1
  • Monica G. Turner
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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