We highlight the complexity of land-use/cover change and propose a framework for a more general understanding of the issue, with emphasis on tropical regions. The review summarizes recent estimates on changes in cropland, agricultural intensification, tropical deforestation, pasture expansion, and urbanization and identifies the still unmeasured land-cover changes. Climate-driven land-cover modifications interact with land-use changes. Land-use change is driven by synergetic factor combinations of resource scarcity leading to an increase in the pressure of production on resources, changing opportunities created by markets, outside policy intervention, loss of adaptive capacity, and changes in social organization and attitudes. The changes in ecosystem goods and services that result from land-use change feed back on the drivers of land-use change. A restricted set of dominant pathways of land-use change is identified. Land-use change can be understood using the concepts of complex adaptive systems and transitions. Integrated, place-based research on land-use/land-cover change requires a combination of the agent-based systems and narrative perspectives of understanding. We argue in this paper that a systematic analysis of local-scale land-use change studies, conducted over a range of timescales, helps to uncover general principles that provide an explanation and prediction of new land-use changes.

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Eric F. Lambin
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