Land use denotes the sum of human activities and arrangements aimed at harnessing services provided by terrestrial ecosystems. Land use is a key element of society-nature interactions and a pervasive driver of global environmental change. One of the central functions of land use is the provision of essential resources to society (e.g. food, feed, fibres, energy, including the provision of clean water and air). The concept "colonization of natural processes" denotes the purposeful intervention into natural processes or ecosystems in order to render them more useful for society. Land use is key for food security. However, land use not only enhances the provision of ecosystem services, it also affects natural process and alters ecological functioning. Because terrestrial ecosystems are major components of the global climate system, and provide habitats and gene reserves for plants, animals, and micro-organism, land use is directly and indirectly linked to many sustainability challenges, including biodiversity loss and climate change, including their trade-offs as well as synergies.

Research in the thematic area is aimed at improving our understanding of highly dynamic processes of society-nature interaction that shape patterns, dynamics and sustainability challenges of land systems. Our research is based on a systemic perspective on land systems. It relies on highly innovative data synthesis methods that systematically combine data from socioeconomic statistics with remote sensing data and model results. We analyse the linkages between resource use (land, materials, energy, time, etc.), landscape change, and the impact of land use on patterns and processes in ecosystems (e.g., energetics, biodiversity), from the local to the global level and across temporal scales. Phenomena to be studied include e.g. the forest transition, impacts of land use on biogeochemical cycles, land use intensification and extensification, production-consumption interlinkages, food security, and global teleconnections. We employ and further develop indicator frameworks for human use of land resources, such as the 'Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production', and other indicators that allow studying opportunities and challenges of colonization strategies, including aspects such as (land-use) intensity and efficiency. The consistent integration of land use data with other socio-economic variables, e.g. information on time use, energy use, or food demand, enables to link changes in ecosystem processes to socio-economic dynamics, and to identify leverage points for more sustainable land use.

Research in this thematic area is carried out in close collaboration with the Global Land Programme (, and with other national and international cooperation partners.

Research coordinator: Karlheinz Erb

Current Projects

ALISEN (Analyzing LInkages of SocioEcological Nitrogen flows) - Linkages of food systems and nitrogen flows: An integrated socioecological model of the Enns valley, Upper Austria, 1830-2030

Keywords: LTSER, integrated modelling, nitrogen flows, food system
Project Leader: Veronika Gaube
Duration: 01.05.2012 - 30.04.2020
Funded by: Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (FWF)

Animal Future - Steering Animal Production Systems towards Sustainable Future

Project Leader: Karlheinz Erb
Duration: 01.09.2017-30.11.2020
Funded by: Federal Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism

Biodiv Vienna - Vienna‘s Biodiversity Footprint: A multi-scale analysis outlining options to reduce urban pressures on biodiversity

Project Leader: Fridolin Krausmann
Duration: 01.03.2018-28.02.2021
Funded by: Vienna Science and Technology Fund

COUPLED - Operationalising telecouplings for solving sustainability challenges related to land use

Project Leader: Helmut Haberl
Duration: 01.01.2018 - 31.12.2021
Funded by: Horizon 2020

The Future of Urban Food – Scenarios of urban agro-food systems and their eco-economic impacts for the case of Vienna (FOOD)

Duration: 01.01.2018-31.12.2020
Project Leader: Fridolin Kraumsann
BOKU Research Units: Division of Organic Farming ; Institute of Social Ecology (SEC) 
Funded by: Vienna Science and Technology Fund

HEFT - Hidden Emissions of Forest Transitions: GHG effects of socio-metabolic processes reducing pressures on forests

Project Leader: Simone Gingrich
Duration: 01.04.2018-31.03.2023
Funded by: Commission of the European Communities

MAT_STOCKS - Understanding the Role of Material Stock Patterns for the Transformation to a Sustainable Society

Project Leader: Helmut Haberl
Duration: 01.03.2018-28.02.2023
BOKU Research Units: Institut für Soziale Ökologie (SEC) ;
Funded by: European Commission, Rue de la Loi, Brussels

UNISECO - UNderstanding and Improving the Sustainability of agro-ECOlogical farming systems in the EU

Project Leader: Karlheinz Erb
Duration: 01.03.2018-30.04.2021
Funded by: Commission of the European Communities, Rue de la Loi, Brussels, European Union

ZEAFOLU - Zero emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land use in the Eisenwurzen and beyond

Project Leader: Christian Lauk
Duration: 01.09.2017 - 30.09.2020
Funded by: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften (ÖAW)

Finished Projects

BACI - Detecting changes in essential ecosystem and biodiversity properties – towards a Biosphere Atmosphere Change Index

Project Leader: Erb Karlheinz
Duration: 01.04.2015-31.03.2019
Funded by: Commission of the European Communities

DESIRE - Development of a System of Indicatiors for a Resource efficient Europe

Keywords: Exiobase, Env. Exteded Input-output Model
Project Leader: Nina Eisenmenger
Duration: 01.12.2012 - 01.07.2016
Funded by: Europäische Union

EJOLT - Environmental Justice Organisations Liabilities and Trade

Keywords: research methods, waste disposal, resource use, headline indicators, local systems
Project Leader: Simron Jit Singh
Duration: 01.03.2011 - 28.02.2015
Funded by: Europäische Union

IPCC Support

Keywords: land use, mitigation of climate change, forestry
Project Leader: Helmut Haberl
Duration: 01.12.2010 - 30.06.2014
Funded by: Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung (BMWF) , Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft (BMLFUW) , Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften (ÖAW) , Forschungsrat der Alpen-Adria Universität Klagenfurt

LUISE - An integrated socioecological approach to land-use intensity: Analyzing and mapping biophysical stocks/flows and their socioeconomic drivers

Keywords: landuse intensity, global, intensification, extensification, land cover change, landuse, LTSER, global land sience, transitions, regional
Project Leader: Karlheinz Erb
Duration: 01.10.2010 - 30.09.2015
Funded by: EU-European Research Council (ERC)

Global Food Security - Assessing geography issues in the context of food security

Keywords: food souvereignety, nutrition, global, geography, land use, food supply
Project Leader: Karlheinz Erb
Duration: 01.06.2013 - 30.06.2014
Funded by: European Commission - Joint Research Centre

ROBIN - The Role of biodiversity and ecosystems for the mitigation of climate change

Keywords: climate change, ecosystem services
Project Leader: Simron Jit Singh
Duration: 01.11.2011 - 31.10.2015
Funded by: Europäische Kommission

SFS - Sustainable Farm Systems: Long-Term Socio-Ecological Metabolism in Western Agriculture

Keywords: sustainability
Project Leader: Fridolin Krausmann
Duration: 01.03.2012 - 28.02.2017
Funded by: Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)

WWF framework agreement

Keywords: waste disposal, habitat connectivity, wilderness
Project Leader: Christoph Plutzar
Duration: 01.06.2013 - 01.03.2014
Funded by: WWF Österreich

VOLANTE - Visions of land use transitions in Europe

Keywords: land use
Project Leader: Karlheinz Erb
Duration: 01.11.2010 - 30.05.2015
Funded by: Europäische Union