Multi-scale analysis of a household level agent-based model of landcover change

Tom P. Evans, Hugh Kelley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

200 Scopus citations


Scale issues have significant implications for the analysis of social and biophysical processes in complex systems. These same scale implications are likewise considerations for the design and application of models of landcover change. Scale issues have wide-ranging effects from the representativeness of data used to validate models to aggregation errors introduced in the model structure. This paper presents an analysis of how scale issues affect an agent-based model (ABM) of landcover change developed for a research area in the Midwest, USA. The research presented here explores how scale factors affect the design and application of agent-based landcover change models. The ABM is composed of a series of heterogeneous agents who make landuse decisions on a portfolio of cells in a raster-based programming environment. The model is calibrated using measures of fit derived from both spatial composition and spatial pattern metrics from multi-temporal landcover data interpreted from historical aerial photography. A model calibration process is used to find a best-fit set of parameter weights assigned to agents' preferences for different landuses (agriculture, pasture, timber production, and non-harvested forest). Previous research using this model has shown how a heterogeneous set of agents with differing preferences for a portfolio of landuses produces the best fit to landcover changes observed in the study area. The scale dependence of the model is explored by varying the resolution of the input data used to calibrate the model (observed landcover), ancillary datasets that affect land suitability (topography), and the resolution of the model landscape on which agents make decisions. To explore the impact of these scale relationships the model is run with input datasets constructed at the following spatial resolutions: 60, 90, 120, 150, 240, 300 and 480 m. The results show that the distribution of landuse-preference weights differs as a function of scale. In addition, with the gradient descent model fitting method used in this analysis the model was not able to converge to an acceptable fit at the 300 and 480 m spatial resolutions. This is a product of the ratio of the input cell resolution to the average parcel size in the landscape. This paper uses these findings to identify scale considerations in the design, development, validation and application of ABMs of landcover change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-72
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Aug 2004


  • Agent-based model
  • GIS
  • Land cover change
  • Scale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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