Stephen J. Leisz

Contact Information

Phone: (970) 491-3960



Office: Clark B220

Role: Faculty

Position: Associate Professor

  • Geography

Department: Anthropology


Advising Faculty Member, GDPE
Director, Remote Sensing and Land Change Science Laboratory


My research is focused in the emerging field of land change science. Through the use of remote sensing data (e.g. current and historical satellite imagery and aerial photographs, LiDAR and RADAR), appropriate fieldwork, and GIS, I investigate the human-environment interactions that lead to land-use and ultimately land-cover changes over local and regional landscapes. I currently have two major research foci. The first, which I have been involved in since 1997, focuses on the way that changing livelihood systems in present day Southeast Asia and Melanesia influence land use and land cover changes at local and regional levels, and by extension how these changes influence ecosystem services (e.g. carbon sequestration, biodiversity) and local economies. The second makes use of LiDAR, medium and high resolution satellite imagery, and derived digital elevation models integrated with archaeological fieldwork to investigate the drivers of land changes in pre-Hispanic central Mexico (more information regarding this project is found at In the past I have researched potential climate change impacts on biodiversity and human societies in Melanesia; investigated the relationship between land and natural resource tenure systems and land-use/cover changes in parts of Africa and Madagascar; and looked at land surveying and mapping issues related to squatter settlements in the periphery of Managua, Nicaragua. Due to my interest in the relationship between livelihood system changes and land change, I also am interested in how international development and land change interact. I am the Director of the Remote Sensing and Land Change Science Laboratory at Colorado State University and much of my research makes use of the remote sensing and GIS resources that are housed in the laboratory.

Current Research Project

Increased accessibility, landscape changes, rural transformations, and urbanization: Impacts of the east-west economic corridor from Da Nang, Vietnam, to Khon Kaen, Thailand. (Funded by the NASA Land-Cover/Land- Use Change Program []). In the early 1990s the six countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) started construction on a system of roads, mainly running in the north-south and east-west directions, with the aim of improving the regions connectivity and key sectors of the economy through improving the GMS’s transportation infrastructure. This project focuses on impacts of the “East-West Economic Corridor” (EWEC), which runs 1,600 kilometer route and connects the countries of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. The project focuses on the part of the corridor that connects Da Nang, Vietnam, to Khon Kaen, Thailand. Upgrades on this section of the EWEC were completed by 2007. The route passes through six urban areas, agricultural dominated coastal plains, areas of tropical montane moist forest where swidden cultivation is practiced, and across areas where permanent agriculture is practiced in a drier, savanna type setting. The project is investigating the impacts of the road on the urban and rural areas of these three countries.

Message to prospective graduate students

Please look through these web pages to see if my research is of interest to you. I regularly advise students in the International Development concentration within Cultural Anthropology and students who are enrolled in the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology (GDPE), an interdisciplinary graduate degree program at CSU that offers MS and PhD degrees in Ecology. Please contact me via email to explore potential options for a graduate degree.

Legacies of Resilience: a long-term research project

LiDAR technology aids in discovery of ancient city


Ph.D. in Geography, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2007
M.S. in Environmental Monitoring, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, 1996
B.A. in American Studies, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., 1986


Nguyen, Hai-Hoa, Clive McAlpine, David Pullar, Stephen Joseph Leisz, Gramotnev Galina (2015) Drivers of Coastal Shoreline Change: Case Study of Hon Dat Coast, Kien, Giang, Vietnam. Environmental Management 55:1093-1108.

Leisz, Stephen J., Michael Schultz Rasmussen. Mapping fallow lands in Vietnam’s north central mountains using yearly Landsat imagery and a land-cover succession model. International Journal of Remote Sensing (accepted July 2011).

Fisher, Christopher, Stephen Leisz, Gary Outlaw (2011) Lidar – A valuable tool uncovers an ancient city in Mexico. Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing 77(10):962-967.

Ziegler, AD, JM Fox, Webb, EL, C Padoch, S Leisz, RA Cramb, O Mertz, TT Bruun, Tran Duc Vien (2011) Recognizing contemporary roles of swidden agriculture in transforming landscapes of Southeast Asia. Conservation Biology (published on-line March 2011).

Leisz, Stephen J. (2009) Dynamics of Land Cover and Land Use Changes in the Upper Ca River Basin of Nghe An, Vietnam. Southeast Asian Studies 47(3): 285 – 306.

Leisz, Stephen J. (2009) Land Use Changes in the Uplands of Southeast Asia: Proximate and Distant Causes. Southeast Asian Studies 47(3).

Truong, Dao Minh, Kono Yasuyuki, Yanagisawa Masayuki, Stephen J. Leisz, Kobayashi Shigeo (2009) Linkage of Forest Policies and Programs with Land Cover and Land Use Changes in the Northern Mountain Region of Vietnam: A Village-level Case Study. Southeast Asian Studies 47(3).

Mertz, Ole, Stephen J Leisz, Andreas Heinimann, Kanok Rerkasem, Thiha Thiha, Wolfram Dressler, Van Cu Pham, Kim Chi Vu, Dietrich Schmidt-Vogt, Carol C.J.P. Colfer, Michael, Epprecht, Christine Padoch (2009) Demography of Swidden Cultivators in VII – 3 Southeast Asia. Human Ecology 37(3): 269-280.

Schmidt-Vogt, Dietrich, Stephen J. Leisz, Ole Mertz, Andreas Heinimann, Thiha Thiha, Peter Messerli, Michael Epprecht, Pham V Cu, Vu K Chi, Martin Hardiono, Dao M Truong (2009) An Assessment of Trends in the Extent of Swidden in Southeast Asia. Human Ecology 37(3): 281-290.

Mertz, Ole, Christine Padoch, Jefferson Fox, Robert Cramb, Stephen J. Leisz, Nguyen Thanh Lam, Tran Duc Vien (2009) Swidden Changes in Southeast Asia; Understanding Causes and Consequences. Human Ecology 37(3): 259-264.

Leisz, Stephen J., Kjeld Rasmussen, Jorgen E. Olesen, Tran Duc Vien, Bo Elberling, Jens Jacobsen, Lars, Christiansen (2007) The impacts of local farming system development trajectories on greenhouse gas emissions in the northern mountains of Vietnam. Regional Environmental Change 7(4): 187-208.

Ziegler, Alan D., Thomas W. Giambelluca, Don Plondke, Stephen Leisz, Liem T. Tran, Jefferson Fox, Michael A. Nullet, John B. Vogler, Dao Minh Truong, Tran Duc Vien (2007) Hydrological consequences of landscape fragmentation in mountainous northern Vietnam: Buffering of Hortonian overland flow. Journal of Hydrology 337(1-2): 52-67.

Padoch, Christine, Kevin Coffey, Ole Mertz, Stephen J. Leisz, Jefferson Fox, Reed L. Wadley (2007) The Demise of Swidden in Southeast Asia? Local Realities and Regional Ambiguities. Danish Journal of Geography 107(10): 29-42.

Jakobsen, Jens, Kjeld Rasmussen, Stephen Leisz, Rikke Folving, and Nguyen Vinh Quang (2007) The effects of land tenure policy on rural livelihoods and food sufficiency in the upland village of Que, north central Vietnam. Agricultural Systems 94(2): 309-319.

Jepsen, Martin R., Stephen J. Leisz, Kjeld Rasmussen, Jens Jakobsen, Lasse Moller-Jensen and Lars Christiansen (2006) Agent-based modeling of shifting cultivation field patterns, Vietnam. International Journal of Geographical Information Science 20(9): 1067-1085.

Tran Duc Vien, Stephen J. Leisz, Nguyen Thanh Lam, A. Terry Rambo (2006) Using Traditional Swidden Agriculture to Enhance Rural Livelihoods in Vietnam’s Uplands. Mountain Research and Development 26(3): 192-196.

Leisz, Stephen J., Nguyen thi Thu Ha, Nguyen thi Bich Yen, Nguyen Thanh Lam, Tran Duc Vien (2005) Developing a methodology for identifying, mapping and potentially monitoring the distribution of general farming system types in Vietnam’s northern mountain region. Agricultural Systems 85: 340-363.

Xu Jianchu, Jefferson Fox, John B. Vogler, Zhang Peifang, Fu Yongshou, Yang Lixin, Stephen J. Leisz (2005) Land-use and land cover change and farmer vulnerability in Xishuangbanna prefecture in southwestern China. Environmental Management 36 (3):404-413.

Fox, Jefferson, Dao Minh Truong, A. Terry Rambo, Nghiem Phuong Tuyen, Le Trong Cuc, and Stephen Leisz (2000) Shifting Cultivation: A New Paradigm for Managing Tropical Forests. BioScience 50(6): 521-528.

Xiu Jianchu, Jefferson Fox, Lu Xing, Nancy Podger, Stephen Leisz, and Ai Xihui (1999) Effects of Swidden Cultivation, State Policies, and Customary Institutions on Land Cover in a Hani Village, Yunnan, China. Mountain Research and Development 19(2): 123-132.

Leisz, Stephen and James Gage (1995) Suggestions for Development/Conservation Research Needs in Madagascar. Society and Natural Resources 9(1): 97-100.

Reports, non-peer reviewed chapters, and presentations


Leisz, Stephen, Andrea Robles, and James Gage. 1994, Land and Natural Resource Tenure Security in Madagascar. The Land Tenure Center, The University of Wisconsin – Madison. Madison, Wisconsin.

Leisz, Stephen J. (November 12-14, 1996) “A Framework for Understanding and Integrating Community-based and National Land Tenure Systems in Africa,” International Conference on Land Tenure and Administration (co-organizer), Gainesville, Florida.

Leisz, Stephen J. (November 23 – 26, 1996) “Overlapping Land Tenure Systems in Rural Madagascar,” African Studies Association Annual Meeting, San Francisco, California.


Hendrix, Steven E. and Stephen J. Leisz. 1995, Land Registration for the Urban Poor in Nicaragua: A Status Report with Recommendations. The Land Tenure Center, The University of Wisconsin – Madison. Madison, Wisconsin.


Leisz, Stephen J. and Burnett, J.B. (eds). 2008-2009, Climate Change and Biodiversity in Melanesia. (9 chapters) Bishop Museum Technical Report #42. The Bishop Museum. Honolulu, Hawaii.

Leisz, Stephen J. 2009. Locations in Melanesia most Vulnerable to Climate Change. The Bishop Museum. Honolulu, Hawaii.

Leisz, Stephen J., J. Burke Burnett, Allen Allison. 2009. Consensus Report, Climate Change and Biodiversity in Melanesia: What do we know. The Bishop Museum. Honolulu, Hawaii.

Allison, Allen, Stephen J. Leisz. 2009. Analysis of the Impacts of Climate Change on the Herpetofauna of the Papuan Region (New Guinea to the Solomon Islands). The Bishop Museum. Honolulu, Hawaii.


Leisz, Stephen, Dao, Minh Truong, Le Tran Chen, Le Trung Hai. 2001, Land-cover and Land-use, In: Bright Peaks, Dark Valleys; A Comparative Analysis of Environmental and Social Conditions and Development Trends in Five Communities in Vietnam’s Northern Mountain Region, (Le , T. C., Rambo, A. T. (Eds.)), The National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, Vietnam, pp. 85 – 118.

Hung, Dao Trong, Stephen Leisz, Dao Minh Truong, Le Tran Chau, and A. Terry Rambo. 2001, Comparative Analysis of Community Ecological Status, In: Bright Peaks, Dark Valleys; A Comparative Analysis of Environmental and Social Conditions and Development Trends in Five Communities in Vietnam’s Northern Mountain Region, (Le , T. C., Rambo, A. T. (Eds.)), The National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, Vietnam, pp. 268 – 288.

Curriculum Vitae

Download Curriculum Vitae


GR320, Cultural Geography

Independent studies: remote sensing, GIS, and international development