The driving forces of landscape change in Europe: A systematic review of the evidence


Over the past decades, landscapes worldwide have experienced changes (e.g., urbanization, agricultural intensification, expansion of renewable energy uses) at magnitudes that put their sustainability at risk. The understanding of the drivers of these landscape changes remains challenging, partly because landscape research is spread across many domains and disciplines. We here provide a systematic synthesis of 144 studies that identify the proximate and underlying drivers of landscape change across Europe. First, we categorize how driving forces have been addressed and find that most studies consider medium-term time scales and local spatial scales. Most studies assessed only one case study area, one spatial scale, and less than four points in time. Second, we analyze geographical coverage of studies and reveal that countries with a non-European Union/European Free Trade Association membership; low Gross Domestic Product; boreal, steppic, and arctic landscapes; as well as forestland systems are underrepresented in the literature. Third, our review shows that land abandonment/extensification is the most prominent (62% of cases) among multiple proximate drivers of landscape change. Fourthly, we find that distinct combinations of mainly political/institutional, cultural, and natural/spatial underlying drivers are determining landscape change, rather than single key drivers. Our systematic review indicates knowledge gaps that can be filled by: (a) expanding the scope of studies to include underrepresented landscapes; (b) clarifying the identification and role of actors in landscape change; (c) deploying more robust tools and methods to quantitatively assess the causalities of landscape change; (d) setting up long-term studies that go beyond mapping land-cover change only; (e) strengthening cross-site and cross-country comparisons of landscape drivers; (f) designing multi-scale studies that consider teleconnections; (g) considering subtle and novel processes of landscape change.

Land Use Policy, 57 204-214
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab