The complex interaction among current landscape conditions, cultural values and norms, policy prescriptions, and market forces dramatically limits the usefulness of linear models as tools for understanding the complex interactions among human and natural systems in many different settings, especially the transition zones between urban and rural areas. The development of policies and other solutions for minimizing negative ecological effects and introducing possible positive ecological effects of land-use change requires tools for anticipating and evaluating the complex interactions between humans and ecological systems. To have some predictive power, these tools should characterize the nature of land-use decision making at the levels of individual households, firms, and local governments, and they should permit evaluation of the ecological effects of various decisions. Such tools should recognize economic, political, and psychological motivations for land-use and management decisions on the urban fringe as well as utilities for sale of undeveloped land. This project focuses a multidisciplinary team on developing, evaluating, and applying agent-based models of land-use and land-cover change processes and on assessing their interactions with ecosystem structure and function. The primary objectives of the project are (1) to develop agent-based models of land-use decision making at the urban fringe, (2) to compile time-series spatial land-use and land-cover data in southeastern Michigan from roughly 1950 to the present, (3) to develop and apply spatial data, indicators, and models of ecological structure and function as associated with land-use change, and (4) to evaluate policy and design options for maintaining ecosystem viability as land-use patterns change. Complementing the research activities of this multidisciplinary team will be a suite of educational activities, including the formal incorporation of the integrated land-use, decision-making, and ecosystem models into both "content" classes (such as environmental economics, ecology, sociology, and policy development) and "methods" classes (such as complex systems modeling, GIS, spatial analysis, and remote sensing).
The models and tools resulting from this project will have direct utility for understanding both human and natural landscape dynamics within urban systems, and they will assist in projecting patterns of ecological change at the urban-rural fringe. Because the project focuses on enhanced understandings of individual decision making that drives land-use decisions, it will enhance capabilities to formulate and test alternative policies and interventions that could reduce environmental costs and enhance environmental benefits. Furthermore, the project's deliberate focus on the model development and application process and should result in innovative approaches for integrating agent-based models of the land-use change process with empirical observations of land purchaser, seller, developer, and agency attitudes as well as with land-use, land-cover, and ecosystem change. The project also will have a direct impact on the graduate and undergraduate education through their incorporation in a broad range of courses at the University of Michigan, and it will have broader educational and application impacts through its dissemination to the broader research, education, and practitioner communities. This project is an award emanating from the FY 2001 special competition in Biocomplexity in the Environment focusing on the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems.