Natural Resources, School of


Anthropogenic Drivers of Ecosystem Change: an Overview

Gerald C. Nelson, University of Illinois
Elena Bennett, McGill University
Asmeret A. Berhe, University of California - Berkeley
Kenneth Cassman, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Ruth DeFries, University of Maryland
Thomas Dietz, Michigan State University
Achim Dobermann, University of Nebraska
Andrew Dobson, Princeton University
Anthony Janetos, Joint Global Change Research Institute
Marc Levy, Columbia University
Diana Marco, Instituto Tecnológico de Chascomus
Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Vienna University of Technology
Brian O'Neill, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Richard Norgaard, University of California - Berkeley
Gerhard Petschel-Held
Dennis Ojima, Colorado State University
Prabhu Pingali, FAO
Robert Watson, World Bank
Monika Zurek, FAO

Document Type Article

Published in Ecology and Society 11(2): 29. [online] URL: (2006). Copyright © 2006 by the author(s).


This paper provides an overview of what the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) calls “indirect and direct drivers” of change in ecosystem services at a global level. The MA definition of a driver is any natural or human-induced factor that directly or indirectly causes a change in an ecosystem. A direct driver unequivocally influences ecosystem processes. An indirect driver operates more diffusely by altering one or more direct drivers. Global driving forces are categorized as demographic, economic, sociopolitical, cultural and religious, scientific and technological, and physical and biological. Drivers in all categories other than physical and biological are considered indirect. Important direct drivers include changes in climate, plant nutrient use, land conversion, and diseases and invasive species. This paper does not discuss natural drivers such as climate variability, extreme weather events, or volcanic eruptions.