Subsistence farming communities are dependent on the landscape to provide the resource base upon which their societies can be built. A key component of this is the role of climate and the feedback between rainfall, crop growth, land clearance and their coupling to the hydrological cycle. Temporal fluctuations in rainfall alter the spatial distribution of water availability, which in turn is mediated by soil-type, slope and landcover. This pattern ultimately determines the locations within the landscape that can support agriculture and controls sustainability of farming practices. The representation of such a system requires us to couple together the dynamics of human and ecological systems and landscape change, each of which constitutes a significant modelling challenge on its own. Here we present a prototype coupled modelling system to simulate land-use change by bringing together three simple process models: (a) an agent-based model of subsistence farming; (b) an individual-based model of forest dynamics; and (c) a spatially explicit hydrological model which predicts distributed soil moisture and basin scale water fluxes. Using this modelling system we investigate how demographic changes influence deforestation and assess its impact on forest ecology, stream hydrology and changes in water availability. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.