A new European land systems representation accounting for landscape characteristics

Yue Dou*, Francesca Cosentino, Ziga Malek, Luigi Maiorano, Wilfried Thuiller, Peter H. Verburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Context: While land use change is the main driver of biodiversity loss, most biodiversity assessments either ignore it or use a simple land cover representation. Land cover representations lack the representation of land use and landscape characteristics relevant to biodiversity modeling. Objectives: We developed a comprehensive and high-resolution representation of European land systems on a 1-km2 grid integrating important land use and landscape characteristics. Methods: Combining the recent data on land cover and land use intensities, we applied an expert-based hierarchical classification approach and identified land systems that are common in Europe and meaningful for studying biodiversity. We tested the benefits of using this map as compared to land cover information to predict the distribution of bird species having different vulnerability to landscape and land use change. Results: Next to landscapes dominated by one land cover, mosaic landscapes cover 14.5% of European terrestrial surface. When using the land system map, species distribution models demonstrate substantially higher predictive ability (up to 19% higher) as compared to models based on land cover maps. Our map consistently contributes more to the spatial distribution of the tested species than the use of land cover data (3.9 to 39.1% higher). Conclusions: A land systems classification including essential aspects of landscape and land management into a consistent classification can improve upon traditional land cover maps in large-scale biodiversity assessment. The classification balances data availability at continental scale with vital information needs for various ecological studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2215-2234
Number of pages20
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number8
Early online date16 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded through the 2017-2018 Belmont Forum and BiodivERsA joint call for research proposals, under the BiodivScen ERA-Net COFUND programme, and with the funding organisations The Dutch Research Council NWO (grant E10005) and Agence Nationale pour la Recherche (FutureWeb: ANR- 18-EBI4-0009) to W.T.. We thank Adrian Leip and Francesco Maria Sabatini for sharing their data, and people who made their data openly available online. We thank Tobias Kuemmerle for his insights in the preparation of this manuscript. We also thank colleagues from the Environmental Geography group at IVM for their support, and Maya Guéguen who ran the ensemble SDMs. In addition, we thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments that largely improved this manuscript from the earlier version. This paper contributes to the objectives of the Global Land Project. The land systems map from this paper can be downloaded from: Dataverse.nl ( https://doi.org/10.34894/XNC5KA ) and EG website ( https://www.environmentalgeography.nl/site/data-models/data/ ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Biodiversity assessment
  • Land management
  • Land system
  • Land use intensity
  • Large-scale
  • Species distribution model


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