Sustainability transformations of landscapes: Conceptualisation and implications for ecosystems and biodiversity

Problem definition

The enormous scale of anthropogenic environmental change of recent decades has led to an accelerated degradation of landscapes and ecosystems as well as a loss of biodiversity. Degradation in this context means a deterioration of landscape functions and ecosystem services. To meet the urgent challenges of the current global socio-ecological crisis, spatial research is needed at and across the scales of urban districts, cities and regions. Such spatial research has to explicitly address the distinctive features of landscapes, ecosystems and biodiversity. While transformation research has made great progress in recent years, it has just begun to focus on spatial implications with only isolated references to applied ecology and the protected goods of landscape, ecosystems and biodiversity. In this respect, it can be assumed that there still exists a large research gap, which this project aims to identify and close.


The primary objective of this basic research project is to utilise the terms and findings of transformation research in order to conceptualise and substantiate the transformation of landscapes. This will create a basis for further studies on landscape transformations, sustainable land use structures and land systems.


The following key concepts and terms of transformation have been selected for further consideration and operationalisation.

  • System knowledge: social-ecological technical systems / scale levels
  • Target knowledge: norms, normativity, ‘the good life’ and ‘justice’, relational/instrumental/intrinsic values.
  • Transformation knowledge: levers and leverage points / transformative capacities, transformative agency, co-productivity / governance systems / external-internal change / disruption.

At least one full-day workshop will be conducted on each of the three knowledge clusters, these to be prepared by a literature review in the specific context of transformation, landscape, ecosystems and biodiversity. Each workshop will be followed by a writing process with different writing/core groups in each case, which will record the most important conceptualisation results, initially as individual text modules.


First results show that systems knowledge and a general understanding of systems thinking and socio-ecological-technical systems is a real research gap for future landscape, ecosystem and biodiversity research in the context of sustainability. An extensive and systematic literature search in 2023 ultimately revealed 'only' 17 relevant publications that place sustainability transformation in combination with system knowledge in the context of landscape research. It also shows that the concept of leverage points has not yet been utilised in landscape research. Nevertheless, shallow to deep leverage points can be identified. Understanding landscape planning, for example, not only as a spatial planning instrument, but also and rather as an instrument for socio-local learning, could represent such a profound lever for sustainability transformation. This was one of the results of an IOER-wide studio on the topic in 2023.

The Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development is jointly funded by the federal government and the federal states.

FS Sachsen

This measure is co-financed by tax funds on the basis of the budget approved by the Saxon State Parliament.