Land Utilisation Capability Indicator

What is LUCI?

LUCI is an ecosystem services modelling tool which illustrates the impacts of land use on various ecosystem services. It runs at fine spatial scales and compares the current services provided by the landscape with estimates of their potential capability. LUCI uses this information to identify areas where landscape usage change might be beneficial, and where maintenance of the status quo might be desirable.

LUCI is relevant for a range of users at multiple scales and levels of decision-making. It can be applied for applications around sustainable development, conservation, sustainable tourism, restoration, and policy-making.

The ecosystem services that LUCI models include:

  • Agricultural production
  • Erosion risk and sediment delivery
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Flood mitigation
  • Habitat provision
  • Water quality – Nitrogen and Phosphorus

LUCI is an evolving tool and many other tools are in development. LUCI functions at sub-field to national scale simultaneously. It uses readily available national data that is easily supplemented with local knowledge. To date, LUCI has been applied in several countries, but most extensively in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Listen to an interview with Bethanna Jackson regarding LUCI, its development and applications.

Watch a YouTube video of Bethanna Jackson speaking about LUCI.

How LUCI works

LUCI requires three datasets to run and can be enhanced with local data if available:

  • Digital elevation model (DEM): To represent landscape topography and ideally has a grid size of 5x5m to 10x10m, although any resolution data can be used as input. The finer the resolution the more detailed the output.
  • Land cover information: To represent impacts of different types of vegetation and management on ecosystem services. The land cover information must first be correlated to the existing database of land cover types already supported by LUCI.
  • Soil information: To represent the effect of soil types on ecosystem services. The soil information must first be correlated to one of the existing soil classification schemes already supported by LUCI.

Other optional information that can be used as input include a stream network, rainfall, and evapotranspiration. These are not necessary to LUCI, but their addition improves the accuracy and reliability of LUCI output.

The DEM and stream network (if available) generates a hydrologically and topographically consistent DEM to correct for potential artefacts, allowing LUCI to more accurately simulate the flow of water through the landscape. Together with the land cover and soil information, LUCI generates a baseline scenario that feeds into determining the spatial distribution, supply, and opportunities of the individual ecosystem services. The land cover information can be amended to explore potential scenarios where the land use or management have changed.

Because of its efficient numerical implementation, LUCI is fast-running and runs at multiple spatial scales, from sub-field to catchment to national planning. LUCI generates a series of ecosystem services maps that show areas of good provision and areas that would benefit from changes in management intervention. Multiple ecosystem services can be compared to identify where trade-offs or synergies in ecosystem services exist.

Who uses LUCI?

LUCI can be used by a wide base of external users:

Policy makers

Due to LUCI's capability to operate at different spatial scales, different levels of government from local to national can use LUCI to acquire an idea of ecosystem services distribution at the baseline, allowing for comparison to other scenarios, and to study the potential outcomes of legislation on ecosystem services. It can be used for planning around sustainable development (e.g. tourism, regulation, etc.). Although LUCI has been applied to many rural areas and at the farm-scale, it can be used for urban planning around:

  • Blue-green infrastructures at the city scale
  • Considering impacts of continued urbanisation at the regional/country scale

Farmers and land managers

Farmers can use LUCI to help meet freshwater policy requirements and identify where they can make changes to their land management with minimal impact to their bottom line. For example, dairy farmers can use LUCI to better understand how to intercept and retain nutrients before they reach waterways and impact water quality. Foresters working with transport planners can use LUCI’s erosion and sediment delivery tool to identify areas to target interventions to reduce erosion-induced damage to transport infrastructure while maintaining profitability. See "LUCI calms the farm".


LUCI has been used in a range of student projects from looking at flooding and flood inundation in the Philippines to improving land management practices in farms across New Zealand. A school class may also use LUCI to explore, for example, how to target pest management to get the best results for biodiversity.


Local communities can use LUCI to gain a greater understanding of wider environmental impacts which could result in improved water quality, less erosion and sedimentation, lower flood risk etc. This stakeholder engagement is important for more participatory planning, allowing communities to feel a greater ownership and responsibility over their environment.


Iwi can use LUCI to identify win-win scenarios where there are resource conflicts. The LUCI team is also working on bringing in a cultural mapping tool to LUCI.

Local councils

LUCI can be used to support the development of Regional Policy Statements to ensure that councils are able to make more informed and effective decisions in relation to land management and strategic planning of landscape development and the provision of ecosystem services.


LUCI has been used in a variety of academic research to explore topics of landscape management, monitoring ecosystem services, engaging stakeholders, wetland restoration, water quality, flood risk, and data quality.

LUCI vs other ecosystem service models

LUCI is a spatially explicit decision support tool. It is simple and transparent, allowing for easier engagement with stakeholders at the planning table. Its innovative algorithms maintain biophysical principles and spatial connections and are orders of magnitude faster than previous approaches.

While it shares features in common with other similar tools, LUCI's ability to simultaneously model different spatial scales such as field to catchment are unique. The landscape's spatial configuration is important, as LUCI “values” features and potential interventions by area modified and the area affected by these modifications.

LUCI's unique, built-in trade-off tool allows the user to compare multiple ecosystem services at once. Its output identifies locations in the landscape where trade-offs or co-benefits/synergies in ecosystem services exist. Trade-offs are areas where one service would benefit from management interventions but lead to the degradation of a different service being provided by the same area. Co-benefits and synergies are areas where multiple services might benefit from interventions.

For a comparative review of ecosystem services, we recommend the following publication: Bagstad, K. J., Semmens, D. J., Waage, S., & Winthrop, R. (2013). A comparative assessment of decision-support tools for ecosystem services quantification and valuation. Ecosystem Services, 5, 27-39.