Case studies, cross-site comparisons, and the challenge of generalization: Comparing agent-based models of land-use change in frontier regions

Dawn C. Parker, Barbara Entwisle, Ronald Rindfuss, Leah K. Vanwey, Steven M. Manson, Emilio Moran, Li An, Peter Deadman, Tom Evans, Marc Linderman, S. Mohammad Mussavi Rizi, George Malanson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Cross-site comparisons of case studies have been identified as an important priority by the land-use science community. From an empirical perspective, such comparisons potentially allow generalizations that may contribute to production of global-scale land-use and land-cover change projections. From a theoretical perspective, such comparisons can inform development of a theory of land-use science by identifying potential hypotheses and supporting or refuting evidence. This paper undertakes a structured comparison of four case studies of land-use change in frontier regions that follow an agent-based modeling approach. Our hypothesis is that each case study represents a particular manifestation of a common process. Given differences in initial conditions among sites and the time at which the process is observed, actual mechanisms and outcomes are anticipated to differ substantially between sites. Our goal is to reveal both commonalities and differences among research sites, model implementations, and ultimately, conclusions derived from the modeling process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-72
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Land Use Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The development of this article was supported in part by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Roadmap Initiative grant (HD051645) to the Carolina Population Center (CPC), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and by NSF grant BCS-0527471. We are also grateful to the Carolina Population Center and the East– West Center for hosting workshops that facilitated the conceptualization of this paper. The research reported on was supported by a variety of grants, including NIH grant HD35811; NSF grant SES-0119572; NIH grant HD051776; NSF grants SBR9521918, SES0083511, and BCS062417; NSF CAREER Award and Biocomplexity Grants to J. Liu; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development R01 HD39789; Michigan State University; San Diego State University; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration New Investigator Program in Earth-Sun System Science (NNX06AE85G), the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts and the McKnight Land-Grant Professorship Program; the NASA-LCLUC program (NAG5-6046, NAG5-11134, and NNG06GD98G) the Center for Integrated Studies of the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change, Carnegie Mellon University (NSF SBR 95-21914); NSF-Biocomplexity (BCS-0410016); and the George Mason University presidential fellowship. Contributions to the LUCIM model by Hugh Kelley, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (KVL), Food and Resource Economics Institute, Denmark, are gratefully acknowledged. Thanks to Barbara Harrison for excellent technical editing.


  • Agent-based model
  • Case studies
  • Frontier
  • Land-use change


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