Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: February 2013

1 - Linking Land Use and the Carbon Cycle



The last few millennia have seen significant human intervention in the Earth system. For most of this time, the influence of humans on ecological processes, including the carbon (C) cycle, was limited to local-scale impacts through hunting and gathering and then through cultivation and animal husbandry. However, the start of the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century saw the collective action of humans begin to alter the C cycle at a global scale by changing the composition of the Earth's atmosphere (Hegerl et al. 2007). It is arguable that human impacts on global levels of atmospheric methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) can be traced back thousands (not just hundreds) of years, largely driven by extensive land management through use of fire (Ruddiman 2003). Although the dominant anthropogenic influence on the global C cycle has resulted from the burning of fossil fuels, it has been estimated that land changes and land degradation have directly affected 39 to 50 percent of the land surface (Vitousek et al. 1997) and contributed to 30 percent of the total anthropogenic efflux of CO2 to the atmosphere (see Chapter 3). Humans have become integral actors in the C cycle – at both local and global scales – to such a degree that many now argue that no point on the surface of the Earth, or ecosystem, has escaped the effects of human activity (e.g., Ellis et al. 2010; Turner, Lambin, and Reenberg 2007).

Central to the theme of this book is the notion that as humans alter the surface of the land through land use and land management, they change the pools and fluxes of C across the Earth. Human actions affect the fundamental structure and function of the ecosystems, therefore altering the amount of C stored above- and belowground; the rate of transfer between the surface and the atmosphere; and how much ends up in the rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans. For example, when a forest is burned to clear the land, a large portion of the aboveground C is released to the atmosphere, some remains on site, and some is leached into the hydrological system. Not all of these fractions are known with a high degree of precision, but they vary by ecological context and frequency, duration, and intensity of fire.

Agarwal, C., Green, G.M., Grove, J.M., Evans, T., and Schweik, C. 2002. A review and assessment of land-use change models: Dynamics of space, time, and human choice. Pub. no. NE-297. Burlington, VT: USDA Forest Service Northeastern Forest Research Station.
An, L., Liu, J., Ouyang, Z., Linderman, M., Zhou, S., and Zhang, H. 2001. Simulating demographic and socioeconomic processes on household level and implications for giant panda habitats. Ecological Modelling, 140:31–49.
Beerling, D.J., and Woodward, F.I. 2001. Vegetation and the terrestrial carbon cycle: Modelling the first 400 million years. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Carpenter, S.R., Bennet, E.M., and Peterson, G.D. 2006a. Editorial: Special feature on scenarios for ecosystem services. Ecology and Society, 11:32.
Carpenter, S.R., DeFries, R., Dietz, T., Mooney, H.A., Polasky, S., Reid, W.V., and Scholes, R.J. 2006b. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Research needs. Science, 314:257–258.
Churkina, G. 2008. Modeling the carbon cycle of urban systems. Ecological Modelling, 216:107–113.
Collinge, S.K. 1996. Ecological consequences of habitat fragmentation: Implications for landscape architecture and planning. Landscape and Urban Planning, 36:59–77.
Deadman, P.J., Robinson, D.T., Moran, E., and Brondizio, E. 2004. Colonist household decision making and land-use change in the Amazon Rainforest: An agent-based simulation. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 31(5):693–709.
EIA. 2008. International Energy Annual 2006: Long-term historical international energy statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Eiswerth, M.E., and Haney, J.C. 2001. Maximizing conserved biodversity: Why ecosystem indicators and thresholds matter. Ecological Economics, 38:259–274.
Ellis, E.C., Goldewijk, K.K., Siebert, S., Lightman, D., and Ramankutty, N. 2010. Anthropogenic transformation of the biomes, 1700 to 2000. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 19:589–606.
EU. 2010. Regulation (EU) No 911/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2010 on the European Earth monitoring programme (GMES) and its initial operations (2011 to 2013). Official Journal of the European Union, L 276/1–10.
Franklin, J.F., and Forman, R.T.T. 1987. Creating landscape patterns by forest cutting: Ecological consequences and principles. Landscape Ecology, 1:5–18.
Frieden, E. 1972. The chemical elements of life. Scientific American, 227:52–60.
GCOS. 2010. Implementation plan for the global observing system for climate in support of the UNFCC. Rep. no. GCOS-138, GOOS-184, GTOS-76, WMO-TD/no. 1523. Geneva: World Meteorological Organization.
GLP. 2005. Science plan and implementation strategy. IGBP rep. no. 53/IHDP rep. no. 19. Stockholm: IGBP Secretariat.
Gower, S.T., Kucharik, C.J., and Norman, J.M. 1999. Direct and indirect estimation of leaf area index, fAPAR and net primary production of terrestrial ecosystems. Remote Sensing of Environment, 70:29–51.
Gutman, G., Janetos, A.C., Justice, C.O., Moran, E.F., Mustard, J.F., Rindfuss, R.R.,…Cochrane, M. 2004. Land change science: Observing, monitoring and understanding trajectories of change on the earth's surface. Remote Sensing and Digital Image Processing Series 6. Berlin: Springer Verlag, Berlin.
He, H.S., Mladenoff, D.J., and Boeder, J. 1999. An object-oriented forest landscape model and its representation of tree species. Ecological Modelling, 119:1–19.
Hegerl, G.C., Zwiers, F.W., Braconnot, P., Gillett, N.P., Luo, Y., Marengo Orsini, J.A.,…Stott, P.A. 2007. Understanding and attributing climate change. In Climate change 2007: The physical science basis, ed. Solomon, S., Qin, D., Manning, M., Chen, Z., Marquis, M., Averyt, K.B.,…Miller, H.L.. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 663–746.
Iacono, M., Levinson, D., and El-Geneidy, A. 2008. Models of transportation and land use change: A guide to the territory. Journal of Planning Literature, 22:323–340.
ITTO. 2008. Annual review and assessment of the world timber situation. Document GI-7/08. Prepared by the Division of Economic Information and Market Intelligence. Yokohama, Japan: International Tropical Timber Organization.
Kasischke, E.S., ed. 2011. Impacts of disturbance on the North American terrestrial carbon budget. Special section. Journal of Geophysical Research, 116:G4. .
King, A.W. 1991. Translating models across scales in the landscape. In Quantitative methods in landscape ecology: The analysis and interpretation of landscape heterogeneity, ed. Turner, M.G. and Gardner, R.H.. New York: Springer-Verlag, pp. 479–517.
Kossoy, A., and Ambrosi, P. 2010. State and trends of the carbon market 2010. Carbon Finance Unit of the World Bank, May 2010.
Lambin, E.F., and Geist, H. 2006. Land-use and land-cover change: Local processes and global impacts. Berlin: Springer.
Le Treut, H., Somerville, R., Cubasch, U., Ding, Y., Mauritzen, C., Mokssit, A.,…Prather, M. 2007. Historical overview of climate changes science. In Climate change 2007: The physical science basis, ed. Solomon, S., Qin, D., Manning, M., Chen, Z., Marquis, M., Averyt, K.B.,…Miller, H.L. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 93–128.
Liu, J., Dietz, T., Carpenter, S.R., Alberti, M., Folke, C., Moran, E.,…Taylor, W.W. 2007. Complexity of coupled human and natural systems. Science, 317:1513–1516.
Loomis, J.B. 2002. Integrated public lands management: Principles and applications to national forests, parks, wildlife refuges, and BLM lands, 2d ed. New York: Columbia University Press.
Matthews, R.B., Gilbert, N.G., Roach, A., Polhill, J.G., and Gotts, N.M. 2007. Agent-based land-use models: A review of applications. Landscape Ecology, 22:1447–1459.
Meyer, W.B., Turner, B.L., and University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Office for Interdisciplinary Earth Studies. 1994. Changes in land use and land cover: A global perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Michalak, A.M., Jackson, R.B., Marland, G., Sabine, C.L., and the Carbon Cycle Science Working Group. 2011. A U.S. carbon cycle science plan. Boulder, CO: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
Parker, D.C., Manson, S.M., Janssen, M.A., Hoffmann, M.J., and Deadman, P.J. 2003. Multi-agent systems for the simulation of land-use and land-cover change: A review. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 93:314–337.
Pielke, R.A 2009. Climate change: The need to consider human forcings besides greenhouse gases. EOS, 90:413.
Prince, S.D., and Goward, , , S.N. 1995. Global primary production: A remote sensing approach. Journal of Biogeography, 22:815–835.
Riebsame, W.E., Meyer, W.B., and Turner, B.L 1994. Modeling land use and cover as part of global environmental change. Climatic Change, 28:45–64.
Rindfuss, R.R., Walsh, S.J., Turner, B.L, Fox, J., and Mishra, V. 2004. Developing a science of land change: Challenges and methodological issues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101:13976–13981.
Robinson, D.T., Brown, D.G., and Currie, W.S. 2009. Modelling carbon storage in highly fragmented and human-dominated landscapes: Linking land-cover patterns and ecosystem models. Ecological Modelling, 220:1325–1338.
Robinson, D.T., Shipeng, S., Hutchins, M., Riolo, R.L., Brown, D.G., Parker, D.C., Currie, W.S., Filatova, T., and Kiger, S. in press. Effects of land markets and land management on ecosystem function: A framework for modelling exurban land-changes. Environmental Modelling and Software. .2012.06.016.
Ruddiman, W.F. 2003. The anthropogenic greenhouse era began thousands of years ago. Climate Change, 61:261–293.
Running, S.W., Thornton, P., Nemani, E.R., and Glassy, J.M. 2000. Global terrestrial gross and net primary productivity from the Earth Observing System. In Methods in Ecosystem Science, ed. Sala, O.E., Jackson, R.B., Mooney, H.A., and Howarth, R.W.. New York: Springer, pp. 44–57.
Running, S.W., Nemani, R.R., Heinsch, F.A., Zhao, M., Reeves, M., and Hashimoto, H. 2004. A continuous satellite-derived measure of global terrestrial primary production, BioScience, 54:547–560.
Sarmiento, J.L., and Wofsy, S. C. 1999. A U.S. carbon cycle science plan. A report of the Carbon and Climate Working Group prepared for the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
Scheffer, M., Carpenter, S., Foley, J.A., Folke, C., and Walker, B. 2001. Catastrophic shifts in ecosystems. Nature, 413:591–596.
Sundquist, E.T., Ackerman, K.V., Parker, L., and Huntzinger, D.N. 2009. An introduction to global carbon cycle management. In Carbon sequestration and its role in the global carbon cycle, ed. McPherson, B.J. and Sundquist, E.T.. Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union, pp. 1–24.
Turner, B.L., Skole, D., Sanderson, S., Fischer, G., Fresco, L., and Leemans, R. 1995. Land-use and land-cover change science/research plan. Joint publication of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (rep. no. 35) and the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Programme (rep. no. 7). Stockholm: Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Turner, B.L, Lambin, E.F., and Reenberg, A., 2007. The emergence of land change science for global environmental change and sustainability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104:20666–20671.
Vitousek, P.M., Mooney, H.A., Lubchenco, J., and Melillo, J.M. 1997. Human domination of earth's ecosystems. Science, 277:494–499.
Walker, R., Perz, S., Caldas, M., and Silva, L.G.T. 2002. Land use and land cover change in forest frontiers: The role of household life cycles. International Regional Science Review, 25:169–199.
Wise, M., Calvin, K., Thomson, A., Clarke, L., Bond-Lamberty, B., Sands, R., and Edmonds, J. 2009. Implications of limiting CO2 concentrations for land use and energy. Science, 342:1183–1186.
Yadav, V., Del Grosso, S.J., Parton, W.J., and Malanson, G.P. 2008. Adding ecosystem function to agent-based land use models. Land Use Science, 3:27–40.
York, R., Rosa, E.A., and Dietz, T. 2002. Bridging environmental science with environmental policy: Plasticity of population. Affluence and Technology, 83(1):18–34.