Monday, January 25, 2016

Global Consequences of Land Use

          Land use has been an environmental issue for quite some time, but is now becoming a "force of global importance". Specifically, nearly the whole world relies on land use practices to provide food, water, and shelter. In this article, Jonathan A. Foley outlines the major impacts of land use. First, the effects land use has on food production. Modern agriculture has become a major reliance on the increase of food production. Grain harvests have doubled in the amount it produces, however the increase in food production has also increased the use of fertilizer, by 700% in the past 40 years. This causes soil erosion, the loss of native habitats, and degradation in water quality. Land use has also had an effect on freshwater resources. Irrigation is a major problem because it directly affects the resource and reduces the flow of the river or dries it up completely. Not only that, but all the fertilizer from the runoff gets into the river killing fish and other species. The forest ecosystem also comes into the picture because of land use. By taking timber, forest grazing, and road expansion it still harms the forest in terms of productivity, biomass, and species composition. Lastly, modifying habitats, road and dam construction, irrigation, increase in people and livestock, and the concentration or expansion or urban areas lead to infectious outbreaks. Specifically, disrupting a habitat increases the chance of disease because 75% of human diseases links back to wildlife or domestic animals. 

            The figure below exemplifies the effects land use has on the ecosystem. The first picture, is the natural ecosystem, with no production. It can maintain most things, except for food production. The middle picture depicts intensive cropland. This place can only maintain crop production, it does not have habitat or water flow. The third picture, however, is the cropland restored. This ecosystem can sustain all things: food, life, water, etc. 

             In conclusion, modern land use practices help short-term in ways of providing an abundance of food and water, but long-term have negative effects on the ecosystem. Confronting land use practices will require the assessment and management of human needs versus ecosystem needs and finding a balance between the two where we are not destroying our ecosystem faster than we are gaining human needs. 

I have acted with honesty and integrity in producing this work and am unaware of anyone who has not. Nataley Ford

Foley, J. A., DeFries, R., Asner, G. P., Barford, C., Bonan, G., Carpenter, S. R., ... & Helkowski, J. H. (2005). Global consequences of land use. science309(5734), 570-574.       


  1. It would be interesting to see your perspective on animal agriculture and research regarding the land use and impact it has on the ecosystem. Animal agriculture is the leading cause to many issues in our environment, not so much grains and other plants.

  2. In Intro to Environmental Studies, we looked at this issue, and I would agree that modern agricultural practices are only a short-term solution to provide for our needs. I wrote on an article with a similar issue, except it focuses on flood plains, which modern land use practices have also caused to flood more. How did the researchers use GIS to map their data?

  3. Modern agriculture is especially disruptive due to its soil depletion, excessive water and pesticide use, and other harmful factors. If more research was dedicated to organic farming practices and understanding perhaps where certain crops naturally grow best, perhaps our land use and resources necessary could be reduced?

  4. It's promising to see the potential of restored cropland, but what does this restoration actually involve? Is this something that could be applied to agricultural areas worldwide?

  5. I wonder if a similar study showing the effects of land use overtime could be done using remote sensing and georeferencing? Perhaps paired with LiDAR to somehow test the health and fertilization of the soil? Does LiDAR even do that?