To set the stage for a vulnerability analysis, investigators must describe and understand the geographic context, including physical characteristics of the landscape and the political and socioeconomic milieu of the population (Jianchu et al. 2005). Vulnerability studies focus on a particular place, at a specific time through its three dimensions, exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity; therefore, understanding place is essential to analyzing vulnerability.
Land-use studies are essential to understanding place because they generalize human activities on the physical landscape. Essentially, land use indicates past human decisions and actions, environmental constraints, and, in some cases, gives insight into subsequent change. Like vulnerability, land use is particular to a place at a certain time, and the analysis of that land use can be used as a baseline for future change and its implications. Vulnerability and land use are linked by the concept of place and are fundamental to contemporary research on human–environment interactions.
Although the literature on land use, land-use change, and climate change is extensive, the land-use component of vulnerability is usually conceptualized as a feedback mechanism to climate change: forest cutting releases carbon dioxide, which increases atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, which increases radiative forcing, which changes climate, and which ultimately changes land cover and subsequent land use (e.g. DeFries and Bounoua 2004; Jianchu et al. 2005; Salinger et al. 2005; Watson 2005). Moreover, land use is rarely specifically identified as a component of vulnerability.