, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 285–297 | Cite as

Characterizing Long-Term Land Use/Cover Change in the United States from 1850 to 2000 Using a Nonlinear Bi-analytical Model

  • Sanjiv Kumar
  • Venkatesh Merwade
  • P. Suresh C. Rao
  • Bryan C. Pijanowski


We relate the historical (1850–2000) spatial and temporal changes in cropland cover in the conterminous United States to several socio-economic and biophysical determinants using an eco-region based spatial framework. Results show population density as a major determinant during the nineteenth century, and biophysical suitability as the major determinant during the twentieth century. We further examine the role of technological innovations, socio-economic and socio-ecological feedbacks that have either sustained or altered the cropland trajectories in different eco-regions. The cropland trajectories for each of the 84 level-III eco-regions were analyzed using a nonlinear bi-analytical model. In the Eastern United States, low biophysically suitable eco-regions, e.g., New England, have shown continual decline in the cropland after reaching peak levels. The cropland trajectories in high biophysically suitable regions, e.g., Corn Belt, have stabilized after reaching peak levels. In the Western United States, low-intensity crop cover (<10 %) is sustained with irrigation support. A slower rate of land conversion was found in the industrial period. Significant effect of Conservation Reserve Program on planted crop area is found in last two decades (1990–2010).


Land cover change Cropland change Spatial determinants United States 



We would like to thank Navin Ramankutty (McGill University) for providing the biophysical suitability data. The first author thanks Rao S. Govindaraju (Purdue University) for discussion on statistical methods. The first author also acknowledges the NSF Summer Hydrology Synthesis Institute, 2008 led by Charles Vorosmarty (City College of New York). BCP was supported by an NSF grant from the III-XT Program. We thank three anonymous reviewers and the associate editor for their helpful comments.

Supplementary material

13280_2012_354_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (805 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 806 kb)


  1. Anderson, M.T., and L. H. Woosley, Jr. 2005. Water availability for the Western United States-Key scientific challenges. United States Geological Survey, Circular 1261, 85 pp.Google Scholar
  2. Borchert, J.R. 1967. American metropolitan evolution. Geographical Review 57: 301–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Budyko, M.I. 1958. The heat balance of the earth. Springfield, VA: United States Department of Commerce.Google Scholar
  4. Cowan, T. 2010. Conservation Reserve Program: Status and Current Issues. Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, RS21613. Accessed 1 Aug 2012.
  5. Daly, C., G.H. Taylor, W.P. Gibson, T. Parzybok, G.L. Johnson, and P.A. Pasteris. 1998. Development of high quality spatial dataset for the United States. Paper presented at first international conference on geospatial information in agriculture and forestry, ERIM, Lake Buena Vista, Florida.Google Scholar
  6. Dimitri, C., A. Effland, and N. Conklin. 2005. The 20th century transformation of US Agriculture and Farm Policy. Economic Information Bulletin Number 3, United States Department of Agriculture-Economic Research Service.Google Scholar
  7. Drummond, M.A., and T.R. Loveland. 2010. Land-use pressure and a transition to forest-cover loss in the Eastern United States. BioScience 60: 286–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eickhout B., H.V. Meijl, and A. Tabeaue. 2006. Modeling agricultural trade and food production under different trade policies. In Integrated modeling of global environmental change. An overview of IMAGE 2.4, ed. A.F. Bouwman, T. Kram, and K. Klein Goldewijk, 93–112. Bilthoven: Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP).Google Scholar
  9. Fisher G., H. van Velthuizen, M. Shah, and F. Nachtergaele. 2002. Global agro-ecological assessment for agriculture in the 21st century: Methodology and results. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria. Accessed 1 Aug 2012.
  10. Foley, J.A., R. DeFries, G.P. Asner, C. Barford, G. Bonan, S.R. Carpenter, F.S. Chapin, M.T. Coe, et al. 2005. Global consequences of land use. Science 309: 570–574. doi: 10.1126/science.1111772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fuglie, K.O., J.M. MacDonald, and E. Ball. 2007. Productivity growth in US agriculture, Economic Brief Number 9, United States Department of Agriculture-Economic Research Service.Google Scholar
  12. Goldewijk, K.K., and G. Van Drecht. 2006. HYDE 3: Current and historical population and land cover. In Integrated modelling of global environmental change. An overview of IMAGE 2.4, ed. A.F. Bouwman, T. Kram, and K. Klein Goldewijk, 93–112. Bilthoven: Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP).Google Scholar
  13. Gordon, L.J., W. Steffen, B.F. Jonsson, C. Folke, M. Falkenmark, and A. Johannessen. 2005. Human modification of global water vapor flows from the land surface. Proceeding of National Academy of Science of the United States of America 102: 7612–7617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gruber, N., and J.N. Galloway. 2008. An earth-system perspective of the global nitrogen cycle. Nature 45: 293–296. doi: 10.1038/nature06592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hellerstein, D. 2006. USDA Land Retirement Programs, Chapter 5.2 in Agriculture Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2006 Edition, United States Department of Agriculture.Google Scholar
  16. Hertel, T.W., W.E. Tyner, and D.K. Birur. 2008. Biofuels for all? Understanding the global impacts of multi-national Mandates. GTAP Working Report No. 51, Center for Global Trade Analysis, Department of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, 57 pp.Google Scholar
  17. Howarth, R.W., E.W. Boyer, W.J. Pabich, and J.N. Galloway. 2002. Nitrogen use in the United States from 1961–2000 and potential future trends. AMBIO 31: 88–96.Google Scholar
  18. Lambin, E.F., and P. Meyfroidt. 2010. Land use transition: Socio-ecological feedback versus socio-economic change. Land Use Policy 27: 108–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lambin, E.F., B.L. Turner, H.J. Geist, S.B. Agbola, A. Angelsen, J.W. Bruce, O.T. Coomes, R. Dirzo, et al. 2001. The causes of land-use and land-cover change: Moving beyond the myths. Global Environmental Change 11: 261–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Loveland, T.R., T.L. Sohl, S.V. Stehman, A.L. Gallant, K.L. Sayler, and D.E. Napton. 2002. A strategy for estimating the rates of recent United States land-cover changes. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 68: 1091–1099.Google Scholar
  21. Mather, A.S., and C.L. Needle. 1998. The forest transition: A theoretical basis. Area 30: 117–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Medley, K.E., C.M. Pobocik, and B.W. Okey. 2003. Historical changes in forest cover and land ownership in a Midwestern US landscape. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 93: 104–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mehaffey, M., E. Smith, and R.V. Remortel. 2012. Midwest US landscape change to 2020 driven by biofuels mandates. Ecological Applications 22: 8–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Meyer, D.R. 1987. The national integration of regional economies: 1860–1920, In North America: The historical geography of a changing continent, ed. R.D. Mitchell, and P. A. Groves, 321–345. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  25. Minnesota Population Center. 2011. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.Google Scholar
  26. Mustard, J.F., R.S. DeFries, T.R. Fisher, and E.F. Moran. 2004. Land-use and land-cover change pathways and impacts. Land Change Science 6: 411–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nash, J.E., and J.V. Sutcliffe. 1970. River flow forecasting through conceptual models, Part 1—a discussion of principles. Journal of Hydrology 10: 282–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Omernik, J.M. 1987. Eco-regions of the conterminous United States. Map (scale 1:7,500,000). Annals of the Association of American Geographers 77:118–125. A shape file for level III ecoregions. Accessed 1 Aug 2012.
  29. Pielke Sr, R.A., A. Pitman, D. Niyogi, R. Mohamood, C. McAlpine, F. Hossain, K.K. Goldewijk, U. Nair, et al. 2011. Land use/land cover changes and climate: Modeling analysis and observational evidence. WIREs Climate Change 2: 828–850. doi: 10.1002/wcc.144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pijanowski, B.C., and K.D. Robinson. 2011. Rates and patterns of land use change in the Upper Great Lakes States, USA: A framework for spatial temporal analysis. Landscape and Urban Planning 102: 102–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pimentel, D. 2003. Ethanol fuels: Energy balance, economics, and environmental impacts are negative. Natural Resources Research 12: 2127–2134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pongratz, J., C. Reick, T. Raddatz, and M. Claussen. 2008. A reconstruction of global agricultural areas and land cover for the last millennium. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 22: GB3018. doi: 10.1029/2007GB003153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ramankutty, N., and J.A. Foley. 1999. Estimating historical changes in global land cover: Croplands from 1700 to 1992. Global Biochemical Cycles 13: 997–1027.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ramankutty, N., J.A. Foley, and N.J. Olejniczak. 2002a. People on the land: Changes in population and global croplands during the 20th century. AMBIO 31: 251–257.Google Scholar
  35. Ramankutty, N., J.A. Foley, J. Norman, and K. Mcsweeney. 2002b. The global distribution of cultivable lands: current patterns and sensitivity to possible climate change. Global Ecology and Biogeography 11: 377–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ray, D.K., and B.C. Pijanowski. 2010. A backcast land use change model to generate past land use maps: Application and validation at the Muskegon River watershed of Michigan, USA. Journal of Land Use Science 5: 1–29. doi: 10.1080/17474230903150799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rudel, T.K., O.T. Coomes, E. Moran, F. Achard, A. Angelsen, J. Xu, and E. Lambin. 2005. Forest transition: Towards a global understanding of land use change. Global Environmental Change 15: 23–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ruef, M. 2004. The demise of an organizational form: Emancipation and plantation agriculture in the American South, 1860–1880. The American Journal of Sociology 109: 1365–1410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Smith, M. 2000. Land retirement. In Agricultural resources and environmental indicators, ed. E.R. Service. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture.Google Scholar
  40. Sohl, T.L., K.L. Sayler, M.A. Drummond, and T.R. Loveland. 2007. The FORE-SCE mode: A practical approach for projecting land cover change using scenarios-based modeling. Journal of Land Use Science 2: 103–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Tilman, D., J. Hill, and C. Lehman. 2006. Carbon-negative biofuels from low-input high-diversity grassland biomass. Science 314: 1598–1600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Turner, B.L., W.C. Clark, R.W. Kates, J.F. Richards, J.T. Mathews, and W.B. Meyers. 1990. Earth as transformed by human action: Global and regional changes in the biosphere over the last 300 years. New York: University of Cambridge Press.Google Scholar
  43. Verburg, P.H., J.R. Ritsema van Eck, T.C.M. de Nijs, M.J. Dijst, and P. Schot. 2004. Determinants of land-use change and patterns in the Netherlands. Environment Planning and Design 31: 125–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Waisanen, P.J., and N.B. Bliss. 2002. Changes in population and agricultural land in conterminous United States counties, 1790 to 1997. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 16: 1137. doi: 10.1029/2001GB001843.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Whitney, G.G. 1994. From coastal wilderness to fruited plain: A history of environmental change in temperate North America from 1500 to the present. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Williams, M. 1989. American and their forest: A historical geography. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Wu, J. 2006. Landscape ecology, cross-disciplinarity, and sustainability science. Landscape Ecology 21: 1–4. doi: 10.1007/s10980-006-7195-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sanjiv Kumar
    • 1
  • Venkatesh Merwade
    • 2
  • P. Suresh C. Rao
    • 2
  • Bryan C. Pijanowski
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere StudiesCalvertonUSA
  2. 2.School of Civil EngineeringPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  3. 3.Department of Forestry and Natural ResourcesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

Personalised recommendations