Land-use intensification in agrarian landscapes is seen as a key strategy to simultaneously feed humanity and use ecosystems sustainably, but the conditions that support positive social-ecological outcomes remain poorly documented. We address this knowledge gap by synthesizing research that analyses how agricultural intensification affects both ecosystem services and human well-being in low- and middle-income countries. Overall, we find that agricultural intensification is rarely found to lead to simultaneous positive ecosystem service and well-being outcomes. This is particularly the case when ecosystem services other than food provisioning are taken into consideration.

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Change history

  • Correction 27 June 2018

    In the version of this Review originally published, the top heading in the first column of Fig. 2 was mistakenly written ‘Food poisoning’; it should have read ‘Food provisioning’. This has now been corrected.

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Acknowledgements

This paper has been developed as part of the project ‘Landscapes in transition: synthesising knowledge on trade-offs between land use changes, ecosystem services and wellbeing’ (grant no. NE/P008356/1), funded with support from the ESPA programme. The ESPA programme (http://www.espa.ac.uk) is funded by the DFID, the ESRC and NERC. The research contributes to the Global Land Programme (https://glp.earth). E.C. acknowledges the financial support of the UAB-Banco de Santander Talent Retention Programme and notes that this work contributes to ICTA-UAB ‘Unit of Excellence’ (MinECo, MDM2015-0552). We thank T. Dale for assistance during the coding process.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Laura Vang Rasmussen
    •  & Ole Mertz
  2. Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

    • Laura Vang Rasmussen
  3. School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

    • Brendan Coolsaet
    • , Adrian Martin
    •  & Neil Dawson
  4. European School of Political and Social Sciences, Lille Catholic University, Lille, France

    • Brendan Coolsaet
  5. BC3, University of the Basque Country, Leioa, Spain

    • Unai Pascual
  6. Ikerbasque, Basque Foundation for Science, Bilbao, Spain

    • Unai Pascual
  7. Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

    • Esteve Corbera
  8. School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

    • Janet A. Fisher
    •  & Casey M. Ryan
  9. IIED, London, UK

    • Phil Franks

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Contributions

L.V.R., B.C. and A.M. led the design and writing of the study. L.V.R and B.C coded the papers and analysed the data. C.M.R. made Fig. 1. All authors contributed to study design, data interpretation and writing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Adrian Martin.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary information

    Supplementary Notes, Methods, Figures 1-4, Table 1, and References 1–16

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https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0070-8