Abstract Land use change models are tools for understanding and explaining the causes and consequences of land use dynamics. Recently, new models, combining knowledge and tools from biophysical and socio-economic sciences, have become available. This has resulted in spatially explicit models focussed on patterns of change as well as agent-based models focused on the underlying decision processes. These developments improve the use of land use change models in environmental impact studies. This special issue documents these developments: (i) analysing the system properties in a biophysical and socio-economic context at multiple scales; (ii) integrating spatially explicit land use change models in integrated assessment models; (iii) visualising and quantifying the potential effects of land use change in trade-off curves, to support land users and policy makers in their decisions; and (iv) modelling of the actual decision making process with agent-based modelling. A new promising future development is the incorporation of dynamic feedbacks between changing land use and changing environmental conditions and vice versa. Unfortunately such dynamic feedbacks between the socio-economic and biophysical model components are still not or only partially operational in current models and are therefore the most important challenge for land use and environmental modellers.