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Concept: Land use


The geographic distribution of Bornean orang-utans and its overlap with existing land-use categories (protected areas, logging and plantation concessions) is a necessary foundation to prioritize conservation planning. Based on an extensive orang-utan survey dataset and a number of environmental variables, we modelled an orang-utan distribution map. The modelled orang-utan distribution map covers 155,106 km(2) (21% of Borneo’s landmass) and reveals four distinct distribution areas. The most important environmental predictors are annual rainfall and land cover. The overlap of the orang-utan distribution with land-use categories reveals that only 22% of the distribution lies in protected areas, but that 29% lies in natural forest concessions. A further 19% and 6% occurs in largely undeveloped oil palm and tree plantation concessions, respectively. The remaining 24% of the orang-utan distribution range occurs outside of protected areas and outside of concessions. An estimated 49% of the orang-utan distribution will be lost if all forest outside of protected areas and logging concessions is lost. To avoid this potential decline plantation development in orang-utan habitats must be halted because it infringes on national laws of species protection. Further growth of the plantation sector should be achieved through increasing yields in existing plantations and expansion of new plantations into areas that have already been deforested. To reach this goal a large scale island-wide land-use masterplan is needed that clarifies which possible land uses and managements are allowed in the landscape and provides new standardized strategic conservation policies. Such a process should make much better use of non-market values of ecosystem services of forests such as water provision, flood control, carbon sequestration, and sources of livelihood for rural communities. Presently land use planning is more driven by vested interests and direct and immediate economic gains, rather than by approaches that take into consideration social equity and environmental sustainability.

Concepts: Land use conflict, Land cover, Economics, Plantation, Ecology, Biodiversity, Land use planning, Land use


In the past decade, accumulating evidence of pollinator decline has raised concerns regarding the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems and the sustainability of crop production. Although land-use changes have been advanced as the major causes, the affinities of most wild pollinators with the main land-use types remain unknown. Filling this gap in our knowledge is a prerequisite to improving conservation and management programmes.

Concepts: Land use, Pollinator, Bee, Pollination syndrome, Biodiversity, Pollinator decline, Pollination


In order to reduce soil erosion and desertification, the Sloping Land Conversion Program has been conducted in China for more than 15 years, and large areas of farmland have been converted to forest and grassland. However, this large-scale vegetation-restoration project has faced some key problems (e.g. soil drying) that have limited the successful development of the current ecological-recovery policy. Therefore, it is necessary to know about the land use, vegetation, and soil, and their inter-relationships in order to identify the suitability of vegetation restoration. This study was conducted at the watershed level in the ecologically vulnerable region of the Loess Plateau, to evaluate the land suitability using the analytic hierarchy process (AHP). The results showed that (1) the area unsuitable for crops accounted for 73.3% of the watershed, and the main factors restricting cropland development were soil physical properties and soil nutrients; (2) the area suitable for grassland was about 86.7% of the watershed, with the remaining 13.3% being unsuitable; (3) an area of 3.95 km(2), accounting for 66.7% of the watershed, was unsuitable for forest. Overall, the grassland was found to be the most suitable land-use to support the aims of the Sloping Land Conversion Program in the Liudaogou watershed. Under the constraints of soil water shortage and nutrient deficits, crops and forests were considered to be inappropriate land uses in the study area, especially on sloping land. When selecting species for re-vegetation, non-native grass species with high water requirements should be avoided so as to guarantee the sustainable development of grassland and effective ecological functioning. Our study provides local land managers and farmers with valuable information about the inappropriateness of growing trees in the study area along with some information on species selection for planting in the semi-arid area of the Loess Plateau.

Concepts: Nutrient, Analytical hierarchy, Geomorphology, Deforestation, Analytic Hierarchy Process, Land use, Soil, Erosion


Human appropriation of land for agriculture has greatly altered the terrestrial carbon balance, creating a large but uncertain carbon debt in soils. Estimating the size and spatial distribution of soil organic carbon (SOC) loss due to land use and land cover change has been difficult but is a critical step in understanding whether SOC sequestration can be an effective climate mitigation strategy. In this study, a machine learning-based model was fitted using a global compilation of SOC data and the History Database of the Global Environment (HYDE) land use data in combination with climatic, landform and lithology covariates. Model results compared favorably with a global compilation of paired plot studies. Projection of this model onto a world without agriculture indicated a global carbon debt due to agriculture of 133 Pg C for the top 2 m of soil, with the rate of loss increasing dramatically in the past 200 years. The HYDE classes “grazing” and “cropland” contributed nearly equally to the loss of SOC. There were higher percent SOC losses on cropland but since more than twice as much land is grazed, slightly higher total losses were found from grazing land. Important spatial patterns of SOC loss were found: Hotspots of SOC loss coincided with some major cropping regions as well as semiarid grazing regions, while other major agricultural zones showed small losses and even net gains in SOC. This analysis has demonstrated that there are identifiable regions which can be targeted for SOC restoration efforts.

Concepts: Grazing, Steppe, Land management, Livestock, Climate change, Pasture, Land use, Soil


Urban water systems are impacted by land use within their source watersheds, as it affects raw water quality and thus the costs of water treatment. However, global estimates of the effect of land cover change on urban water-treatment costs have been hampered by a lack of global information on urban source watersheds. Here, we use a unique map of the urban source watersheds for 309 large cities (population > 750,000), combined with long-term data on anthropogenic land-use change in their source watersheds and data on water-treatment costs. We show that anthropogenic activity is highly correlated with sediment and nutrient pollution levels, which is in turn highly correlated with treatment costs. Over our study period (1900-2005), median population density has increased by a factor of 5.4 in urban source watersheds, whereas ranching and cropland use have increased by a factor of 3.4 and 2.0, respectively. Nearly all (90%) of urban source watersheds have had some level of watershed degradation, with the average pollutant yield of urban source watersheds increasing by 40% for sediment, 47% for phosphorus, and 119% for nitrogen. We estimate the degradation of watersheds over our study period has impacted treatment costs for 29% of cities globally, with operation and maintenance costs for impacted cities increasing on average by 53 ± 5% and replacement capital costs increasing by 44 ± 14%. We discuss why this widespread degradation might be occurring, and strategies cities have used to slow natural land cover loss.

Concepts: Land cover, Rural economics, Eutrophication, City, Pollution, Land use, Water, Water pollution


Unsustainable exploitation of natural resources is increasingly affecting the highly biodiverse tropics [1, 2]. Although rapid developments in remote sensing technology have permitted more precise estimates of land-cover change over large spatial scales [3-5], our knowledge about the effects of these changes on wildlife is much more sparse [6, 7]. Here we use field survey data, predictive density distribution modeling, and remote sensing to investigate the impact of resource use and land-use changes on the density distribution of Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus). Our models indicate that between 1999 and 2015, half of the orangutan population was affected by logging, deforestation, or industrialized plantations. Although land clearance caused the most dramatic rates of decline, it accounted for only a small proportion of the total loss. A much larger number of orangutans were lost in selectively logged and primary forests, where rates of decline were less precipitous, but where far more orangutans are found. This suggests that further drivers, independent of land-use change, contribute to orangutan loss. This finding is consistent with studies reporting hunting as a major cause in orangutan decline [8-10]. Our predictions of orangutan abundance loss across Borneo suggest that the population decreased by more than 100,000 individuals, corroborating recent estimates of decline [11]. Practical solutions to prevent future orangutan decline can only be realized by addressing its complex causes in a holistic manner across political and societal sectors, such as in land-use planning, resource exploitation, infrastructure development, and education, and by increasing long-term sustainability [12].

Concepts: Sumatran Orangutan, Land use, Remote sensing, Natural resource, Sustainability, Biodiversity, Orangutan, Bornean Orangutan


The development of effective sediment management strategies is a key requirement in tropical areas with fast urban development, like Brasilia DF, Brazil, because of the limited resources available. Accurate identification and management of sediment sources areas, however, is hampered by the dearth of reliable information on the primary sources of sediment. Few studies have attempted to quantify the source of sediment within fast urbanizing, mixed used, tropical catchments. In this study, statistically verified composite fingerprints and a multivariate mixing model have been used to identify the main land use specific sources of sediment deposited in the artificial Lago Paranoá, Central Brazil. Because of the variability of urban land use types within the Lago Paranoá sub-catchments, the fingerprinting approach was additionally undertaking for the Riacho Fundo sub-catchment. The main contributions from individual source types (i.e. surface materials from residential areas, constructions sites, road deposited sediment, cultivated areas, pasture, farm tracks, woodland and natural gullies) varied between the whole catchment and the Riacho Fundo sub-catchment, reflecting the different proportions of land uses. The sediments deposited in the silting zones of the Lago Paranoá originate largely from urban sources (85±4%). Areas with (semi-) natural vegetation and natural gullies contribute 10±2% of the sediment yield. Agricultural sites have only a minor sediment contribution of about 5±4% within the whole catchment. Within the Riacho Fundo sub-catchment there is a significant contribution from urban (53±4%) source, such as residential areas with semi-detached housings (42±3%) with unpaved roads (12±3%) and construction sites (20±3%) and agricultural areas (31±2%). The relative contribution from land use specific sources to the sediment deposition in the silting zone of the Lago Paranoá demonstrated that most of the sediment is derived from sites with high anthropogenic impact.

Concepts: Drainage basin, Fingerprint, Urban planning, Source, Erosion, Land use planning, Sediment, Land use


Global land cover is an essential climate variable and a key biophysical driver for earth system models. While remote sensing technology, particularly satellites, have played a key role in providing land cover datasets, large discrepancies have been noted among the available products. Global land use is typically more difficult to map and in many cases cannot be remotely sensed. In-situ or ground-based data and high resolution imagery are thus an important requirement for producing accurate land cover and land use datasets and this is precisely what is lacking. Here we describe the global land cover and land use reference data derived from the Geo-Wiki crowdsourcing platform via four campaigns. These global datasets provide information on human impact, land cover disagreement, wilderness and land cover and land use. Hence, they are relevant for the scientific community that requires reference data for global satellite-derived products, as well as those interested in monitoring global terrestrial ecosystems in general.

Concepts: Earth, Crowdsourcing, Perl, Land use, Variable, Data set, Land cover, Remote sensing


It is not clear whether a worldwide “forest transition” to net reforestation will ever occur, and the need to address the main driver-agriculture-is compelling. We present a mathematical model of land use dynamics based on the world food equation that explains historical trends in global land use on the millennial scale. The model predicts that a global forest transition only occurs under a small and very specific range of parameter values (and hence seems unlikely) but if it does occur, it would have to occur within the next 70 years. In our baseline scenario, global forest cover continues to decline until it stabilizes within the next two centuries at 22% of global land cover, and wild pasture at 1.4%. Under other scenarios the model predicts unanticipated dynamics wherein a forest transition may relapse, heralding a second era of deforestation; this brings into question national-level forest transitions observed in recent decades, and suggests we need to expand our lexicon of possibilities beyond the simple “forest transition/no forest transition” dichotomy. This research also underscores that the challenge of feeding a growing population while conserving natural habitat will likely continue for decades to come.

Concepts: Parameter, Natural resource, Das Model, Habitat, Deforestation, Land use, Mathematics, Wilderness


Many researchers believe that prehistoric Rapa Nui society collapsed because of centuries of unchecked population growth within a fragile environment. Recently, the notion of societal collapse has been questioned with the suggestion that extreme societal and demographic change occurred only after European contact in AD 1722. Establishing the veracity of demographic dynamics has been hindered by the lack of empirical evidence and the inability to establish a precise chronological framework. We use chronometric dates from hydrated obsidian artifacts recovered from habitation sites in regional study areas to evaluate regional land-use within Rapa Nui. The analysis suggests region-specific dynamics including precontact land use decline in some near-coastal and upland areas and postcontact increases and subsequent declines in other coastal locations. These temporal land-use patterns correlate with rainfall variation and soil quality, with poorer environmental locations declining earlier. This analysis confirms that the intensity of land use decreased substantially in some areas of the island before European contact.

Concepts: Moai, Soil, Social disintegration, Rapa Nui, Land use, Societal collapse, Demography, Easter Island