University of Wisconsin–Madison

Holly Gibbs

Assistant Professor of Geography and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies


Post-Doctoral Fellow, Stanford University
Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison
M.S., The Ohio State University

Research Areas

My research focuses on tropical land-use change and globalization, particularly on the potential to reconcile food security, climate change and conservation goals. I use data-driven modeling approaches, geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing imagery combined with ground-based data on social and biophysical conditions to document and understand patterns, drivers and consequences of land-use change, particularly in the tropics.

Currently, I am examining tropical land-use transitions in response to global economic drivers such as bioenergy mandates and demand-side pressures from Greenpeace and other non-governmental organizations. Specific research questions include - What are the drivers of agricultural land use change? Do bioenergy subsidies in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere influence rates of forest clearing? What role could REDD play in mitigating causes and drivers of deforestation? How have tropical-land use patterns changed over the last three decades? What does this mean for carbon emissions? How can we facilitate low carbon land use and energy strategies?

Throughout my career, I have worked closely with policymakers, business leaders and non-governmental organizations.  For nearly a decade, I have served as a science advisor for policymakers from developing countries in support of the UNFCCC initiative to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). I was also selected to serve on the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard Expert Working Group, where I chaired the Land Cover Change committee. I am committed to mentoring students in GLUE and beyond, and greatly enjoy helping them find ways to use their unique skills and achievements to bring science into action.
More information

Courses Taught

Geog 309: People, Land, and Food
Geog 930: Range of graduate seminars focussed on land use issues around the world
Env St 600: Consumer-drive Sustanability

Selected Publications

Gibbs, H. K., J. Munger, J. L'Roe, P. Barreto, R. Pereira, M. Christie, T. Amaral, and N.F. Walker. 2015. "Did Ranchers and Slaughterhouses Respond to Zero-Deforestation Agreements in the Brazilian Amazon?" Conservation Letters. LINK  

Gibbs, H. K., L. Rausch, J. Munger, I. Schelly, D. C. Morton, P. Noojipady, B. Soares-Filho, P. Barreto, L. Micol, and N. F. Walker. "Brazil's Soy Moratorium: Supply chain governance is needed to avoid deforestation." Science 347(6220): 377-378 LINK  

Gibbs, H. K. and J. M. Salmon. 2015. "Mapping the world's degraded land." Applied Geography 57: 12-21 LINK  

Lark, T. J., J. M. Salmon, and H. K. Gibbs. 2015. "Cropland expansion outpaces agricultural and biofuel policies in the United States." Environmental Research Letters 10(4): 044003 LINK

Lambin, E. F., H. K. Gibbs, L. Ferreira, R. Grau, P. Mayaux, P. Meyfroidt, D. C. Morton, T. Rudel, I. Gasparri, and J. Munger. 2013. "Estimating the world's potentially available cropland using a bottom-up approach." Global Environmental Change 23(5): 892-901
Gibbs, H. K. 2012. "Trading forests for oil yields in the Peruvian Amazon." Environmental Research Letters 7(1): 011007

Koh, L. P., H. K. Gibbs, P. V. Potapov, and M. C. Hansen. 2011. " A Web-Based Decision-Support Tool for implementing Indonesia's Forest Moratorium." Methods Ecology and Evolution 3(2): 310-316

West, P., H. K. Gibbs, J. A. Foley, C. Barford, and J. Wagner. 2010. "Trading carbon for food: global comparison of carbon storage vs. crop yields on agricultural land." Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 107(46): 19645-19648

Gibbs, H. K., A.S. Ruesch, J. A. Foley, N. Ramankutty, F. Achard, and P. Holmgren. 2010. Forests were the primary land source for new agricultural lands in the 1980s and 1990s. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 107(38) 16732-16737.

West, P., H. K. Gibbs, J.A. Foley, C. Barford, and J. Wagner. 2010. Trading carbon for food: global comparison of carbon storage vs. crop yields on agricultural land. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 107(46):19627-19632.

Brodie, J.F., and H.K. Gibbs. 2009. Bushmeat hunting as climate threat (commentary). Science 326: 364-365.

Gibbs, H. K., S. Brown, J. O. Niles. J.A. Foley. 2007. Monitoring and measuring tropical forest carbon stocks: Making REDD a reality. Environmental Research Letters 2(4): 045023.

Gibbs, H. K., M. Johnston, J. A. Foley, T. Holloway. C. Monfreda, N. Ramankutty, and D. Zaks. 2008. Carbon payback times for crop-based biofuel expansion in the tropics: the effects of changing yield and technology. Environmental Research Letters 3 034001.

Ramankutty, N., H. K. Gibbs, F. Achard, R. DeFries, J.A. Foley, and R.A. Houghton. 2007. Challenges in estimating carbon emissions from tropical deforestation. Global Change Biology 13(1):51-66.

Patz, J. A., H. K. Gibbs, J. A. Foley, and K. Smith. 2007. Climate change and global health: Quantifying a growing ethical crisis. EcoHealth 4(4):1612-1910.

View Holly Gibbs curriculum vitae.

Graduate Students and Postdocs

I'm excited to welcome to 1-2 new students in Fall 2016! I have RA funding for students interested in working on soy and cattle land use issues in Brazil.

Contact Information


Phone: (513) 720-2784