Research Article: A Comparative Analysis on Assessment of Land Carrying Capacity with Ecological Footprint Analysis and Index System Method

Date Published: June 29, 2015

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Yao Qian, Lina Tang, Quanyi Qiu, Tong Xu, Jiangfu Liao, Abdisalan Mohamed Noor.


Land carrying capacity (LCC) explains whether the local land resources are effectively used to support economic activities and/or human population. LCC can be evaluated commonly with two approaches, namely ecological footprint analysis (EFA) and the index system method (ISM). EFA is helpful to investigate the effects of different land categories whereas ISM can be used to evaluate the contributions of social, environmental, and economic factors. Here we compared the two LCC-evaluation approaches with data collected from Xiamen City, a typical region where rapid economic growth and urbanization are found in China. The results show that LCC assessments with EFA and ISM not only complement each other but also are mutually supportive. Both assessments suggest that decreases in arable land and increasingly high energy consumption have major negative effects on LCC and threaten sustainable development for Xiamen City. It is important for the local policy makers, planners and designers to reduce ecological deficits by controlling fossil energy consumption, protecting arable land and forest land from converting into other land types, and slowing down the speed of urbanization, and to promote sustainability by controlling rural-to-urban immigration, increasing hazard-free treatment rate of household garbage, and raising energy consumption per unit industrial added value. Although EFA seems more appropriate for estimating LCC for a resource-output or self-sufficient region and ISM is more suitable for a resource-input region, both approaches should be employed when perform LCC assessment in any places around the world.

Partial Text

No matter how advanced science and technology becomes, human beings consistently rely on natural resources for survival and living. Expansive urbanization associated with rapid industrialization places enormous pressure on the Earth’s resources, and humans’ requirements for resources have surpassed the planet’s regeneration capacity since the 1970s [1]. Unfortunately, the high ecological pressure in urban areas and almost fully loaded land carrying capacity are even more troublesome as cities continue to experience population expansion, consumption growth, resource overuse, waste and emission accumulation, et al [2]. Thus, it is essential to determine land carrying capacity (LCC) to ensure the safety of ecosystems and their sustainable development, or at least to slow down the degradation of natural capital. Currently, more and more regional science programs have been devoted to study the relationship between human beings and land-use situations. The United States’ NASA Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Program was designed to improve the understanding of human interactions with the environment. It is focused on providing foundational knowledge of sustainability, vulnerability, and resilience of land use and on addressing issues related to land-cover and land-use changes for the purpose of human welfare [3].

EFA and ISM are both useful to evaluate LCC but each has special suitability depending on the region of application and the demands of policy makers. ISM is more suitable to resource-input regions, while EFA is appropriate for resource-output or self-sufficient regions. If policy makers wish to consider complex multi-factors, including social development, ecosystem health, and economic growth, in determining whether a region abides by sustainable development, ISM is more appropriate [40, 41]. However, if they wish to investigate the effects of different land categories on LCC, EFA is more suitable. In order to take full advantage of these two approaches, the combined use of them may be ideal to evaluate LCC.