Land abandonment is not a static end state but a transitional stage leading to different trajectories of varying intensity and long-term outcomes. Environmental benefits include carbon sequestration, regulation of terrestrial albedo and increases in certain habitat. Tradeoffs include the spatial concentration of ecologically harmful agricultural activities when agricultural intensification facilitates abandonment. Abandoned lands may be vulnerable to invasive species and fire. Societal tradeoffs include loss of traditional landscapes and displacement of rural livelihoods. Abandonment in high-income areas may be enabled by trade in agricultural and forest products, resulting in the destruction of ecosystems in low-income areas. Further research should pay greater conceptual attention to multiple pathways of abandonment and ecological regeneration, and what corresponding livelihood opportunities could be encouraged. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.