Mapping global patterns of land use decision-making

Žiga Malek*, Peter H. Verburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Humans have changed most of the terrestrial surface by changing land-use and land-cover. The spatial distribution and extent of land-cover changes have been studied and mapped widely, using remote sensing and geospatial technologies. Although there are numerous studies on the human decisions underlying such changes, they are limited to local case-studies. How such local-scale patterns of decision-making can be used to explain land-use change globally is unknown. Using a collection of local studies from a literature review, we studied the contextual conditions of different modes of land-use change decision-making and present global maps of the potential distribution of decision-making in land-use change. We find that decision-making in land-use can be explained, to a large extent, by the socio-economic, climatic and soil conditions of a location, captured by global data proxies of these conditions. Survival and livelihood objectives are positively associated to the spatial variation in childhood malnutrition and distance to roads, and negatively to total economic output of an area. Economic objectives on the other hand, are positively associated to total economic output, but also to the annual precipitation at the location. Similar trends are observed when looking at more detailed decision-making types: survivalist, subsistence-oriented and market-oriented smallholder decision-making types are more likely found in areas with higher poverty levels and overall lower levels of socio-economic development. The spatial distribution can be used to understand the occurrence of land-use intensification trajectories and to account for variation in decision-making in global land-use models. Finally, we provide a representation of the spread of case-studies and which contexts are poorly represented by case-studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102170
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Early online date23 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sept 2020


The research in this paper was supported by the European Research Council ERC grant GLOLAND (No. 311819 ). This paper contributes to the objectives of the Global Land Project ( ).

FundersFunder number
European Research Council ERC
Seventh Framework Programme311819
European Research Council


    • Agriculture
    • Global distribution
    • Livelihoods
    • Typology


    Dive into the research topics of 'Mapping global patterns of land use decision-making'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this