Supplying sufficient amounts of biomass to a growing and prospering world population, while avoiding natural depletion, is a key challenge of the 21st century. From a production side perspective this will likely entail the intensification of current agricultural lands. However, many uncertainties relate to potentials of harvest increases and associated environmental trade-offs, particularly at the global scale. In this thesis I apply a consistent socio-ecological perspective on land systems that allows addressing three interrelated and virulent knowledge gaps: (a) Detecting current global patterns of land-use intensity through integrating socio-economic costs and benefits with changes at the land system level; (b) identifying regions with the highest (sustainable) intensification potentials and (c) tracing past land system trajectories in order to identify socio-economic and natural framework conditions under which changes in land-use intensity occur. Results on long term land system trends in Europe reveal surprising similarities between the most heterogeneous political and biophysical regions over the past 150 years. Land-use intensification was a somewhat universal trajectory on croplands in Europe, whereas trends on grasslands and forests were highly diverse, owing to economic and natural particularities. However, in a global perspective, cropland use intensity around 2000 differed substantially in terms of associated costs and benefits across biophysical regions. Improving global input efficiency could substantially reduce environmental burdens in high-input regions, such as many European countries and Eastern Asia, and raise biomass outputs by ca. 30% in the one quarter of croplands that are under low land-use intensity. This thesis contributes to land-use intensity research, both in a conceptual and empirical way. The holistic perspective on land use across various spatial and temporal dimensions allowed for insights into archetypical patterns of intensification, including related costs, benefits and future potentials, both, for societies and ecosystems.