Land use impacts on biodiversity in LCA: a global approach

  • Laura de BaanEmail author
  • Rob Alkemade
  • Thomas Koellner



Land use is a main driver of global biodiversity loss and its environmental relevance is widely recognized in research on life cycle assessment (LCA). The inherent spatial heterogeneity of biodiversity and its non-uniform response to land use requires a regionalized assessment, whereas many LCA applications with globally distributed value chains require a global scale. This paper presents a first approach to quantify land use impacts on biodiversity across different world regions and highlights uncertainties and research needs.


The study is based on the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) land use assessment framework and focuses on occupation impacts, quantified as a biodiversity damage potential (BDP). Species richness of different land use types was compared to a (semi-)natural regional reference situation to calculate relative changes in species richness. Data on multiple species groups were derived from a global quantitative literature review and national biodiversity monitoring data from Switzerland. Differences across land use types, biogeographic regions (i.e., biomes), species groups and data source were statistically analyzed. For a data subset from the biome (sub-)tropical moist broadleaf forest, different species-based biodiversity indicators were calculated and the results compared.

Results and discussion

An overall negative land use impact was found for all analyzed land use types, but results varied considerably. Different land use impacts across biogeographic regions and taxonomic groups explained some of the variability. The choice of indicator also strongly influenced the results. Relative species richness was less sensitive to land use than indicators that considered similarity of species of the reference and the land use situation. Possible sources of uncertainty, such as choice of indicators and taxonomic groups, land use classification and regionalization are critically discussed and further improvements are suggested. Data on land use impacts were very unevenly distributed across the globe and considerable knowledge gaps on cause–effect chains remain.


The presented approach allows for a first rough quantification of land use impact on biodiversity in LCA on a global scale. As biodiversity is inherently heterogeneous and data availability is limited, uncertainty of the results is considerable. The presented characterization factors for BDP can approximate land use impacts on biodiversity in LCA studies that are not intended to directly support decision-making on land management practices. For such studies, more detailed and site-dependent assessments are required. To assess overall land use impacts, transformation impacts should additionally be quantified. Therefore, more accurate and regionalized data on regeneration times of ecosystems are needed.


Biodiversity Global characterization factors Land use LCIA Regionalization 



The authors wish to thank Biodiversity Monitoring Switzerland (BDM) and the team of GLOBIO for providing data. The research was funded by ETH Research Grant CH1-0308-3 and by the project “Life Cycle Impact Assessment Methods for Improved Sustainability Characterisation of Technologies” (LC-IMPACT), Grant Agreement No. 243827, funded by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme. We appreciate helpful comments by M. Curran, S. Hellweg, J.P. Lindner, R. Müller-Wenk, A. Spörri, and two anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

11367_2012_412_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1 mb)
ESM 1 PDF 1.02 mb


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura de Baan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rob Alkemade
    • 2
    • 3
  • Thomas Koellner
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute for Environmental Decisions, Natural and Social Science InterfaceETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment AgencyBilthovenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Environmental Systems Analysis GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Professorship of Ecological Services, Faculty of Biology, Chemistry and GeosciencesUniversity of BayreuthBayreuthGermany

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