Anthropogenic drivers of ecosystem change: An overview

Gerald C. Nelson, Elena Bennett, Asmeret A. Berhe, Kenneth Cassman, Ruth DeFries, Thomas Dietz, Achim Dobermann, Andrew P. Dobson, Anthony Janetos, Marc Levy, Diana Marco, Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Brian O'Neill, Richard Norgaard, Gerhard Petschel-Held, Dennis Ojima, Prabhu Pingali, Robert Watson, Monika Zurek

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

210 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number29
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology


  • Climate change
  • Cultural and religious drivers
  • Demographic drivers
  • Direct drivers
  • Diseases
  • Drivers of change
  • Economic drivers
  • Ecosystem services
  • Indirect drivers
  • Invasive species
  • Land conversion
  • Physical and biological drivers
  • Plant nutrient use
  • Scientific and technological drivers
  • Sociopolitical drivers


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