Land-use planning in complex landscapes: the benefits of Marxan with Zones and production possibility frontiers

We’ve got a new paper out! I’m really proud of this one. It’s the thesis of my PhD thesis. Hope you enjoy and find it useful!

Land-use planning in complex landscapes is challenging. Often there are multiple stakeholders competing for the same areas of land. How can we make sure all stakeholder groups are happy? In Law et al. (2016), we have developed a new method to help land managers manage expectations: using Marxan with Zones to construct trade-off curves, otherwise known as production possibility frontiers.

Marxan with Zones (Watts et al. 2009) is an extension to the familiar conservation planning software, Marxan (Ball et al. 2009) developed by the University of Queensland and now used by over 60 countries worldwide. The original Marxan could identify only two zones, for example ‘protected’ and ‘unprotected’. The new Marxan with Zones can include multiple zones, for example ‘protected’, ‘agriculture’, ‘timber’, and ‘oil-palm’. This means that it can identify optimal planning strategies that take account of the benefits provided by the whole landscape (Wilson et al. 2010), or determine optimal conservation strategies when several levels of protection zones are available (Klein et al. 2009).

Production possibility frontiers show the maximum outcomes possible, when land allocation is optimised and constraints, such as achieving timber production or biodiversity conservation targets, are satisfied. Using the latest development of Marxan with Zones (which replaces the solving algorithm with the latest optimisation techniques; Beyer et al. 2016) we were able to construct production possibility frontiers quickly and easily (Law et al. 2016).

Production possibility frontiers show maximum smallholder agriculture and oil palm target achievement, subject to the achievement of biodiversity, forestry and carbon emissions mitigation targets. See paper for more details.


We demonstrate the benefits of this approach using a case study from the Ex-Mega Rice Project, a high-priority region for forest protection, restoration, and rural development in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. The Ex-Mega Rice Project exemplifies the challenges of competing demands for conserving biodiversity, sustaining ecosystem services and accommodating production systems such as forestry and agriculture. We looked at the broad strategies of land-sharing or land-sparing. The benefits of and preferences for land-sparing and land-sharing are hotly debated. But when it comes down to it, they are both strategies aiming to manage trade-offs between production and biodiversity conservation.

In previous work on this region, we have mapped ecosystem services (Law et al. 2015a), looked at the best metrics for carbon management (Law et al 2015b), developed simple models for looking at the preference for land sharing or land sparing (Law and Wilson 2015), and looked at preferences for land-sharing and land-sparing when land-use is constrained by existing zoning plans (Law et al. 2015c). In this study we analysed the potential outcomes under ten alternative policy scenarios, including land-sharing, land-sparing, and mixed strategies, when land allocations are optimized (Law et al. 2016). By optimising land-use allocation for multiple objectives, we can evaluate the full potential of these alternative strategies, even in complex, multifunctional landscapes.

Zone composition for the solutions of the production possibility frontiers that, subject to achieving all other targets, maximize either smallholder agricultural production ot oil palm production. (a) Overall zone composition; (B) derivation of the conservation zone, and outcomes for extant forest; (c) derivation of the oil palm zone; (d) allocation to land-sharing or land-sparing in the smallholder agricultural zone.

We found that, while mixed policy and land-sparing strategies offered the most flexibility, all scenarios tested, including land-sharing, could satisfy all stakeholder objectives, when land use is optimized. However in order to do this, at minimum 29-37% of the landscape would require forest protection. Most of this includes the remaining forest patches, with some restoration of particularly threatened ecosystems.

This approach provides practical options for landscape planning in complex, multifunctional landscapes, and can inform the design of land-use policies that maximize stakeholder satisfaction and minimize conflict. When using targets sought by multiple stakeholders within an ecosystem services framework, production possibility frontiers can characterize biophysical, socio-economic, and institutional dimensions of policy trade-offs in heterogeneous landscapes. For the Ex-Mega Rice Project, this analysis has provided evidence that this landscape can fulfil diverse stakeholder needs and desires, and shows the complementarity of development and biodiversity protection in achieving these goals.



Ball, I.R., H.P. Possingham, and M. Watts. 2009. Marxan and relatives: Software for spatial conservation prioritisation. Chapter 14: Pages 185-195 in Spatial conservation prioritisation: Quantitative methods and computational tools. Eds Moilanen, A., K.A. Wilson, and H.P. Possingham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Beyer, H.L., Dujardin, Y., Watts, M.E. & Possingham, H.P. (2016) Solving conservation planning problems with integer linear programming. Ecological Modelling 328, 14-22.

Klein, C., C. Steinback, M. Watts, A. Scholz, and H. Possingham. 2009. Spatial marine zoning for fisheries and conservation. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment doi:10.1890/090047.

Law E.A., Bryan B.A., Meijaard E., Mallawaarachchi T., Struebig M.J. & Wilson K.A. (2015a) Ecosystem services from a degraded peatland of Central Kalimantan: implications for policy, planning, and management. Ecological Applications 25, 70-87.

Law E.A., Bryan B.A., Torabi N., Bekessy S.A., McAlpine C.A. & Wilson K.A. (2015b) Measurement matters in managing landscape carbon. Ecosystem Services 13, 6-15.

Law E.A., Meijaard E., Bryan B.A., Mallawarachchi T., Koh L.P. & Wilson K.A. (2015c). Better land-use allocation outperforms land sparing and land sharing approaches to conservation in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Biological Conservation 186, 276-286.

Law, E. A., Bryan, B. A., Meijaard, E., Mallawaarachchi, T., Struebig, M. J., Watts, M. E., Wilson, K. A. (2016), Mixed policies give more options in multifunctional tropical forest landscapes. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12666

Law E.A. & Wilson K.A. (2015). Providing context for the land-sharing and land-sparing debate. Conservation Letters, doi: 10.1111/conl.12168

Watts M.E., Ball I.R., Stewart R.S., Klein C.J., Wilson K., Steinback C., Lourival R., Kircher L. & Possingham H. (2009) Marxan with Zones: software for optimal conservation based land-and sea-use zoning. Environmental Modelling & Software 24, 1513-1521.

Wilson K.A., Meijaard E., Drummond S., Grantham H., Boitani L., Catullo G., Christie L., Dennis R., Dutton I., Falcucci A., Maiorano L., Possingham H.P., Rondinini C., Turner W.R., Venter O. & Watts M. (2010) Conserving biodiversity in production landscapes. Ecological Applications 20, 1721-1732.


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