Ceremony of the Francqui Prize by His Majesty The King Albert II at the "Palais des Académies" on June 9, 2009#

Read about the ceremony

Eric Lambin#

Laudatio by Bruno Messerli#

Land change science has emerged as a fundamental component of global environmental change and sustainability research. This interdisciplinary field seeks to understand the dynamics of land cover and land use. The land cover is defined by the attributes of the earth’s land surface and immediate subsurface, including biota, soil, topography, surface and groundwater, and human structures. Land use is defined by the purposes for which humans exploit the land cover. Today, as much as 50% of the earth’s ice-free land surface has been transformed. Concerns about land change emerged with the realization that land surface processes influence climate (via surface albedo, the carbon cycle and evapotranspiration), the structure and function of ecosystems (via biotic diversity, soil degradation, the water cycle and the provision of food and fibers necessary for human needs) and the vulnerability of places and people to perturbations. When aggregated globally, land changes significantly affect central aspects of earth system functioning. Eric Lambin’s research has contributed to a better understanding of land change and human-environment interactions in land systems at multiple scales of analysis.

Eric Lambin developed in the early 1990s a quantitative method to detect and categorize land-cover changes and ecosystem dynamics at regional to continental scales based on time series of wide-field-of-view satellite sensors (AVHRR, MODIS). Application of this method highlighted a broad range of patterns of interannual variability in land surface conditions that were previously ignored in land-cover change studies. Thanks to his work, attention in land-cover change studies was broadened from "slow" land-cover conversions to "fast" land-cover modifications. He related these multiscale dynamics of terrestrial ecosystems to issues of biomass burning, climate variability, biodiversity, and land use. This work was conducted at a continental scale (Africa) and, more recently, at a global scale.

Eric Lambin developed in his PhD thesis, and then refined over the years and applied to several case studies worldwide, an integrated approach to human-environment interactions in land systems, based on remote sensing and socio-economic data which are linked using spatially-explicit models. This quantitative, landscape-scale approach led to a better understanding of patterns and processes of land use (tropical deforestation, dryland degradation, land use conflicts around natural reserves, forest transition) and of their impacts on ecosystem attributes: fire regime, biodiversity, vector-borne and zoonotic diseases. Newly developed methods linking "people to pixels" (i.e., joint statistical analysis of fine resolution remote sensing data with georeferenced, detailed household survey data) have allowed spatial disagregation of land-use change studies at the level of agents and, therefore, better understanding of the complexity of land change processes. This work was conducted for case studies in Ahica mostly, but also in Asia, the Brazilian Amazon and Europe. lt often involved interdisciplinary collaborations.

Eric Lambin also generalized the above findings through meta-analyses of many case studies and syntheses of land-use/-cover change research. He contributed to the enrichment of a theory of human-environment interactions by identifying a finite set of pathways of land change. This work allowed better understanding of driving forces of land-use change. He also contributed to the design of effective methods for analyzing the dynamics of socio-ecological systems.

More recently, Eric Lambin has researched in greater depth human and ecosystem responses to land change. Social and ecological feedbacks are sources of non-linear dynamics and land-use transitions. He has proposed and tested an analytical framework for this research by identifying a set of conditions for a transition toward a sustainable use of land resources. These conditions fall in three categories: information on the state of the environment, motivation to manage sustainably the environment, and capacity to implement a sustainable management of natural resources. A meta-analysis of case studies of sustainable land use highlighted the importance of cultural factors (local environmental attitudes, knowledge systems) and economic incentives to change and adapt. This approach is connected to current international research programs on resilience, vulnerability, and sustainability transition. The recent forest transition in Vietnam (ie., a shift from net deforestation to net reforestation at the decadal time scale) was used as a natural experiment to understand land-use transitions. This pioneer research demonstrated that, after a long period of decline, forest cover and their carbon stocks are recovering in Vietnam. Statistical modeling identified the causes of this transition. This research is now being extended to other tropical forest countries and to drylands in the African Sahel and southern Europe.

The more recent breakthrough in Eric Lambin’s research has taken place in studies of the impact of ecosystem changes on vector-borne diseases and zoonoses. By approaching this research topic through an integrated analysis at a landscape scale, Eric Lambin’s team is gaining a better understanding of the complex interactions between land use, human behavior, ecosystem changes, vector/host ecology, and disease transmission. Their case studies — always conducted in close collaboration with specialists from other disciplines span tropical diseases (malaria and dengue in Thailand), emerging diseases in temperate regions (Lyme disease, Puumala hantavirus, tick-borne encephalitis, leishmaniasis), and animal diseases (transmission of foot-and-mouth disease from wildlife to livestock around natural reserves in Africa). To test scenarios of the risk of disease emergence, they developed spatially-explicit, multi—agent simulation models that fonnalize the current understanding of system interactions gained from data-intensive analyses.

Eric Lambin is often consulted by international organizations and invited to speak at their meetings on issue of tropical deforestation, desertification, the impact of biofuel production on global land use, and reforestation and avoided deforestation projects as part of the Kyoto and post-Kyoto Protocoles.

After his successful book "La Terre sur une fil", translated as "The Middle Path" by University of Chicago Press, Eric Lambin has published a new broad audience book titled "An Ecology of Happiness", Are changes in the natural environment going to make us less or more happy? Eric Lambin gives numerous broad audience talks on environmental change, trying very hard to communicate an unbiased vision for the future.

In conclusion, Eric Lambin has made breakthrough contributions to the field of land change. In particular, he has developed a methodology for quantitative analysis of land modifications based on remote sensing and has pioneered the integration of biophysical and socio-economic data to analyze the role of human activity and climatic factors in land-cover change. This allowed Eric Lambin to gain a better understanding of the causes and impacts of changes in terrestrial ecosystems.

Lambin’s work has been highly recognized by the scientific community, as proven by his recent election as as Foreign Associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (one of only five Belgian scientists to have currently this honour) and the award of the Francqui prize in 2009. His papers have been cited more than 3,500 times, with an "H” index of 33 on October 5th 2009 (ISI Web of Science), a very high score in the field of geography.

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