Mind, the gap in landscape-evolution modelling


  • John Wainwright,

    Corresponding author
    1. Sheffield Centre for International Drylands Research, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
    • Sheffield Centre for International Drylands Research, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Winter Street, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK
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  • James D.A. Millington

    1. Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA
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Despite an increasing recognition that human activity is currently the dominant force modifying landscapes, and that this activity has been increasing through the Holocene, there has been little integrative work to evaluate human interactions with geomorphic processes. We argue that agent-based models (ABMs) are a useful tool for overcoming the limitations of existing, highly empirical approaches. In particular, they allow the integration of decision-making into process-based models and provide a heuristic way of evaluating the compatibility of knowledge gained from a wide range of sources, both within and outwith the discipline of geomorphology. The application of ABMs to geomorphology is demonstrated from two different perspectives. The SPASIMv1 (Special Protection Area SIMulator version 1) model is used to evaluate the potential impacts of land-use change – particularly in relation to wildfire and subsequent soil conditions, runoff and erosion – over a decadal timescale from the present day to the mid-twenty-first century. It focuses on the representation of farmers with traditional versus commercial perspectives in central Spain, and highlights the importance of land-tenure structure and historical contingencies of individuals' decision-making. CYBEROSION, however, considers changes in erosion and deposition over the scale of at least centuries. It represents both wild and domesticated animals and humans as model agents, and investigates the interactions of them in the context of early agriculturalists in southern France in a prehistoric context. We evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the ABM approach, and consider some of the major challenges. These challenges include potential process-scale mismatches, differences in perspective between investigators from different disciplines, and issues regarding model evaluation, analysis and interpretation. If the challenges can be overcome, this fully integrated approach will provide geomorphology a means to conceptualize soundly the study of human–landscape interactions by bridging the gap between social and physical approaches. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.