Understanding the drivers of agricultural change

Any solution that we find to make agriculture more sustainable must itself be sustainable. If we can identify and encourage land uses that maximize agricultural benefits for the lowest possible ecological cost, we need to make sure that they will last. However, such trade-offs can be easily upset when changes in biophysical and socioeconomic conditions alter the costs and benefits of agriculture, thereby precipitating a change in land use. Climate change is one of the most important biophysical factors than can disrupt agriculture. On the socioeconomic side, there are a large number of variables that can drive agricultural land use change, ranging from new technologies to consumer demand to government policies. An important focus of my research is thus to understand how such variables can impact agricultural land uses and farmers’ decisions, so that this information can ultimately be factored into the design of agriculture-environment tradeoffs.

My current research in this area examines how the interactions of climate (both short-term variability and long-term change) and food security policies (ranging from subsidies to trade) impact agriculture and associated livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa.

Related Work



  • Mastrorillo, M., Licker, R., Bohra-Mishra, P., Fagiolo, G., Estes, L.D., Oppenheimer, M. The influence of climate variability on internal migration flows in South Africa. Global Environmental Change, 39, 155-169.
  • Estes, L.D., Chaney, N., Herrera-Estrada, J., Caylor, K.K., Sheffield, J., Wood, E.F. 2014. Changing water availability during the African maize growing season, 1979-2010. Environmental Research Letters 9, 075005.
  • Estes, L.D., Bradley, B.A., Holness, S., Green, J.M., Oppenheimer, M., Paroz, L., Schulze, R., Tadross, M., Turner, W.R., Wilcove, D.S. 2014. Using changes in agricultural utility to quantify future climate-induced risk to conservation. Conservation Biology 28, 427-437.
  • Estes, L.D., Bradley, B.A., Oppenheimer, M., Ruane, A., Schulze, R., Tadross, M., Turner, W.R., Wilcove, D.S. 2013. Projected climate impacts to South African maize and wheat production in 2055: A comparison of empirical and mechanistic modeling approaches. Global Change Biology 19, 3762-3774.
  • Tingley, M.W., Estes, L.D., Wilcove, D.S. 2013. Climate change must not blow conservation off course. Nature 7462, 271-272.
  • Bradley, B.A., Estes, L.D., Hole, D.G., Holness, S., Oppenheimer, M., Schulze, R., Turner, W.R., Wilcove, D.S. 2012. Predicting how adaptation to climate change could affect ecological conservation: secondary impacts of shifting agricultural suitability. Diversity and Distributions, 18, 425-437.
  • Turner, W., Bradley, B., Estes, L., Hole, D., Oppenheimer, M., and Wilcove, D. (2010). Climate Change: Will Nature survive the human response? Conservation Letters, 3, 304‐312.


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