Archetypical patterns and trajectories of land systems in Europe


Assessments of land-system change have dominantly focused on conversions among broad land-use categories, whereas intensity changes within these categories have received less attention. Considering that both modes of land change typically result in diverse patterns and trajectories of land-system change, there is a need to develop approaches to reduce this complexity. Using Europe as a case study, we applied a clustering approach based on self-organising maps and 12 land-use indicators to map (1) land-system archetypes for the year 2006, defined as characteristic patterns of land-use extent and intensity, and (2) archetypical change trajectories, defined as characteristic changes in these indicators between 1990 and 2006. Our analysis identified 15 land-system archetypes, with low-intensity archetypes dominating (ca. 55 % coverage) followed by high-intensity archetypes (ca. 26 %). In terms of change, we identified 17 archetypical change trajectories, clustered in four broad categories. Stable land systems were most widespread (ca. 40 % of the EU27), followed by land systems characterised by land-use conversions (ca. 26 %), de-intensification trends (ca. 18 %), and intensification trends (ca. 15 %). Intensively used and intensifying land systems were particularly widespread in Western Europe, whereas low-intensity and de-intensifying land systems dominated in Europe’s east. Comparing our archetypes with environmental and socio-economic factors revealed that good accessibility and favourable topographic, climatic, and soil conditions characterised intensively managed areas. Intensification was also most common in these areas, suggesting an ongoing polarisation of intensification in favourable areas and de-intensification and abandonment trends in more marginal areas. By providing spatially and thematically improved maps of land-use patterns and changes therein, our archetypes could serve as useful inputs for more detailed assessments of ecosystem service demand and supply, as well as explorations of land-system change trade-offs, especially with regard to land-use intensity. Further, they could serve useful for identifying regions within which similar policy tools could be valuable to develop regionalised, context-specific land-management policies to steer European land systems onto desired pathways.

Regional Environmental Change