• Role:

  • Position:

    • Professor
  • Concentration:

    • Geography
  • Department:

    • Anthropology and Geography
  • Education:

    • Ph.D. in Geography, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2007
    • Master of Science. in Environmental Monitoring, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
    • Bachelor of Arts in American Studies, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
  • Curriculum Vitae:


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

Research Focus

My research is focused within the 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), quantitative, qualitative, and participatory fieldwork, and spatial analysis, including the use of geographical information science (GIS) and participatory GIS, I investigate the human-environment interactions that lead to land-use and land-cover changes over local and regional landscapes. Over the course of my career, I have worked on issues of land change, and the drivers of land-cover and land-use change, and livelihood systems changes in West Africa and Madagascar (during the 1980s and 1990s), and since 1997 in Southeast Asia.  Since 2007 I have expanded my work to include research on climate change in Melanesia and also to the application of remote sensing and GIS to archaeology. In association with my interest in understanding the drivers of land change, I also research how human livelihoods are changing in rural, peri-urban and, in some cases, urban areas. In conjunction with this interest, I have been involved in international development projects and I investigate how development and land change interact. At Colorado State University I am the Director of the Land Change Science and Remote Sensing Laboratory, Co-Director of the Center for Archaeology and Remote Sensing, and I am on the International Development Studies Board. I am also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, having served in Senegal with the United States Peace Corps for three years and I am a First-Generation College Graduate.

Recent Research Projects

Land-use/cover change research

My recent projects in Southeast Asia focus on changes to the agricultural systems in the lowland and uplands in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.  Most recently, I have expanded the focus of my research beyond general land-use/cover changes in rural areas to look at peri-urban and urban changes and linkages between these changes and rural land-use changes, and the impacts on environmental services.

My most recently completed project focused on the agrarian transition/changes in rice farming in mainland Southeast Asia. Its foci were the Red River Delta and Mekong Delta of Vietnam, Northeast and Central regions of Thailand, Savannakhet Province of Laos, and the Battambang Province of Cambodia.  Fieldwork was carried out in each of the study areas and remote sensing land-cover change analysis was done for the region as a whole.  More about this work can be found at . Fieldwork on the project was done between 2018 and 2021, papers from the project are still being developed and published.

Previous to this I led a project that focused on increased accessibility, landscape changes, rural transformations, and urbanization: Impacts of the east-west economic corridor from Da Nang, Vietnam, to Khon Kaen, Thailand. This project researched land-use/cover changes along the East-West Economic Corridor which runs 1,600-kilometer route and connects the countries of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. The project focused 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 setting. The project investigated the impacts of the road on the urban and rural areas of these three countries with a specific focus on the telecoupled drivers of land change.  More about this work can be found at . Work on this project took place from 2013 – 2017, data collected during this project are still be used to develop publications, as well as for student projects.

Other projects focusing on land-use/cover changes in Southeast Asia that I have worked on can be found at these links:

Remote Sensing and GIS applied to Archaeological Research

The first research that I was involved with that applied remote sensing, GIS, and spatial analysis to archaeological research was in support of the work that Andrew Hardy of the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) was doing on the Long Wall of Quang Ngai in central Vietnam. I used high resolution Ikonos imagery and Corona satellite photos from 1967 to identify and map parts of the wall while a team of Vietnamese researchers walked the wall and mapped it using a GPS receiver.

At CSU the work that I have done applying remote sensing and GIS in support of archaeology is with Professor Chris Fisher. We have worked collaboratively applying remote sensing to his research sites in the Patzcuaro Basin of Mexico and research in support of identifying the city of the Jaguar in the Mosquitia of Honduras.

Information about these projects can be found at:

In 2020 Professor Chris Fisher and I also started the Earth Archive Initiative.  The effort has the aim of digitally preserving endangered landscapes and creating an open access database of the earth’s surface.

Prospective Graduate Students

Please look my web page and see if my research is of interest to you. Within the Department of Anthropology and Geography I regularly advise graduate students who are pursuing their degree within the International Development concentration of Cultural Anthropology. I also advise 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. GDPE students who I advise tend to be applying remote sensing and GIS to ecological questions. Please contact me via email to explore potential options for working with me on your graduate degree. I also regularly make my Land Change Science and Remote Sensing lab available to graduate, and undergraduate, students who are using remote sensing and GIS within their research.


A full list of my publications can found at: ‪Stephen Leisz - ‪Google Scholar

Land-use/land-cover change

Leisz, Stephen J., Nghiem Thi Tuyen, Ngo The An, Nong Duong, Nguyen Thi Bich Yen (2022). Agricutlural Land-Use Trends in Vietnam 1990 – 2020 in Remote Sensing of Agriculture and Land Cover/Land Use Changes in Southeast Asian Countries. Eds. Vadrevu, K.P., Toan, T.L., Ray, S., Justice, C. pp. 517-532. Springer. (Agricultural Land-Use Trends in Vietnam 1990–2020 | SpringerLink)

Bruno, Jasmine E., Stephen J. Leisz, Jake S. Bobula, Maria Fernandez-Gimenez (2021). Conserving Working Rangelands: A Socio-Ecological Case Study from Northeastern Colorado. Land 10(12), 1399. (Land | Free Full-Text | Conserving Working Rangelands: A Social–Ecological Case Study from Northeastern Colorado (

Young, Nicholas E., Paul H. Evangelista, Tefera Mengitsu, Stephen Leisz (2020) Twenty-three years of forest cover change in protected areas under different governance strategies: A case study from Ethiopia’s southern highlands. Land Use Policy.

Hoover, Jamie D., Stephen J. Leisz, Melinda E. Laituri (2017) Comparing and Combining Landsat Satellite Imagery and Participatory Data to Assess Land-Use and Land-Cover Changes in a Coastal Village in Papua New Guinea. Human Ecology 45(2): 251-264 doi:10.1007/s10745-016-9878-x.

Ganesh Shivakoti, Ganesh , Mai Van Thanh, Tran Duc Vien, Stephen J. Leisz (eds) (2016).

Upland Natural Resource and Social Ecological Systems in Northern Vietnam, Elsevier Publications, ISBN: 9780128054536, pp. 284

Leisz, Stephen J. (2016) “Chapter 6. Land-Cover and Land-Use Transitions in Northern Vietnam from the early 1990s to 2012,” in Upland Natural Resource and Social Ecological Systems in Northern Vietnam, (Ganesh Shivakoti,  Mai Van Thanh, Tran Duc Vien, Stephen J. Leisz (eds)), Elsevier Publications, pp. 77-86.

Leisz, Stephen, Eric Rounds, Ngo The An, Nguyen Thi Bich Yen, Tran Nguyen Bang, Souvanthone Douangphachanh, Bounheuang Ninchaleune (2016) Urban-rural telecouplings in the East-West Economic Corridor within borders and across. Remote Sensing 8 (12), 1012; doi:10.3390/rs8121012.

Leisz, Stephen J., Michael Schultz Rasmussen (2012) Mapping fallow lands in Vietnam’s north central mountains using yearly Landsat imagery and a land-cover succession model. International Journal of Remote Sensing 33(20):6281-6303.

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 25(4): 846-848.

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., Kono Yasuyuki, Jefferson Fox, Yanagisawa Masayuki, Terry A. Rambo (2009). Land Use Changes in the Uplands of Southeast Asia: Proximate and Distant Causes. Southeast Asian Studies 47(3).

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.

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.

International Development

Nguyen, Y.T.B., Leisz, S.J. (2021) Determinants of livelihood vulnerability to climate change: Two minority ethnic communities in the northwest mountainous region of Vietnam. Environmental Science and Policy 123: 11-20.

Nghiem, T., Kono, Y., Leisz, S.J. (2020) Crop Boom as a Trigger of Smallholder Livelihood and Land Use Transformations: The Case of Coffee Production in the Northern Mountain Region of Vietnam. Land 9(2). 56

Shirai, Y., Leisz, S. J., Fox, J., Rambo, A. T. (2019). Commuting Distances to Local Non-Farm Employment Sites and the Impact on Rural Out-Migration: The Case of Northeast Thailand. Asia Pacific Viewpoint.

Shirai, Yuko, Jefferson Fox, Stephen J. Leisz, A. Terry Rambo (2017). The influence of local non-farm employment on rural household structure in Northeast Thailand. Journal of Rural Studies 54: 52-59.

Shirai, Yuko, Leisz, J. Stephen, Fox, Jefferson and Rambo, A. Terry (2017) Rural Household Characteristics and Agricultural Activities in Relation to Local Non-Farm Employment: A Comparative Study of Two Wet Rice-Growing Villages in Northeast Thailand. The Khon Kaen Agriculture Journal 45(4), Khon Kaen University.

Leisz, Stephen. J. (2017). Misinterpreting the Uplands of Vietnam: How Government Policies and Maps Lead to a Misunderstanding of Swidden and its Associated Livelihood Systems, and Some Implications (Chapter 26) in Shifting cultivation policies: balancing environmental and social sustainability. Ed. Malcolm Cairns. Wallingford, UK: CABI Publishing. (Shifting Cultivation Policies -

Leisz, Stephen J., Rikke Folving, Nguyen Thanh Lam, Tran Duc Vien, Kjeld Rasmussen (2011) “Ecological landscapes, government policies, and market forces in the uplands of Nghe An,” In: Upland Transformations: Opening Boundaries in Vietnam, eds. Sikor, Thomas, Nghiem Phuong Tuyen, Jennifer Sowerine, Jeff Romm, National University of Singapore Press. 2011.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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


C Fisher, S Leisz, D Evans, DH Wall, K Galvin, M Laituri, G Henebry, J Zeidler, JC Fernadez-Diaz, S Pallickara, S Pallickara, T Garrison, F Estrada-Belli, E Neves, K Reese-Taylor, R Opitz, T Lovejoy, W Sarni, R Solinis, G Ellis, M Carvalho, C White, L Daggars, RA Gasson-Pacheco, A Bolanos, V Scarborough (2022) Creating an Earth Archive. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 119 (11), e2115485119

Fisher, Christopher T., Anna S. Cohen, Juan Carlos Fernandez-Diaz, Stephen J. Leisz (2017) The application of airborne mapping LiDAR for documentation of ancient cities and regions in tropical regions. Quaternary International

Fisher, Christopher T., Juan Carlos Fernandez-Diaz, Anna S. Cohen, Oscar Neil Cruz, Alicia M. Gonzales, Stephen J. Leisz, Florencia Pezzutti, Ramesh Shrestha, William Carter (2016) Identifying Ancient Settlement Patterns through LiDAR in the Mosquitia Region of Honduras. PLoS ONE 11(8): e0159890. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0159890.

Leisz, Stephen J. (2013) “An overview of remote sensing and archaeology during the twentieth century,” In: Space Archaeology: Mapping Ancient Landscapes with Air and Spaceborne Imagery (in Observance of the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention), (Comer, Douglas, and Michael Harrower (eds.)), Springer Press, pp. 11 – 20.

Fisher, Christopher T., Stephen Leisz (2013) “New Perspectives on Purépecha Urbanism Through the Use of LiDAR at the Site of Angamuco, Mexico,” In: Space Archaeology: Mapping Ancient Landscapes with Air and Spaceborne Imagery (in Observance of the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention), (Comer, Douglas, and Michael Harrower (eds.)), Springer Press, pp. 199-210.

Chase, AF, DZ Chase, CT Fisher, SJ Leisz, JF Weishampel (2012) Geospatial revolution and remote sensing LiDAR in Mesoamerican archaeology. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(32): 12916-12921.

Fernandez-Diaz, Juan Carlos, William E. Carter, Ramesh L. Shrestha, Stephen J. Leisz, Christopher T. Fisher, Alicia M. Gonzalez, Dan Thompson, Steve Elkins (2014). Archaeological prospection of north Eastern Honduras with airborne mapping LiDAR. 2014 IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium. Archaeological prospection of north Eastern Honduras with airborne mapping LiDAR | IEEE Conference Publication | IEEE Xplore

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.

Reports, non-peer reviewed chapters, and presentations


Leisz, Stephen. (1998). Madagascar Country Profile. Country Profiles of Land Tenure: Africa, 1996. Land Tenure Center Research Paper No. 130, John W. Bruce (ed.).

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.

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.


Stanley, Denise, Steve Hendrix and Stephen Leisz. 1996, Land Information Sources in Latin America.  Volumes I, II, and III.  The Land Tenure Center, The University of Wisconsin - Madison.  Madison, Wisconsin.

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

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.

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.

Southeast Asia

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.


  • GR 220 Mapping, Cartography, and Spatial Thinking

  • GR 323 Remote Sensing and Image Interpretation (cross-listed as NR 323)

  • GR 420 Spatial Analysis with GIS

  • GR 430 Land Change Science and Remote Sensing / GR431 Land Change Science Lab

  • ANTH 679 Applications of International Development (cross-listed as IE 679)