Europe is characterized not only by large geomorphological variability but also by a long history of land use. This resulted in a highly variegated landscape. Based on the IGBP-transect initiative, a north south transect was established across Europe ranging from north Sweden to central Italy in order to study effects of global change. Mainly process oriented studies were established on plots along the transect, and these were used to establish functional relationships as basis for landscape integration. However, it became apparent that the transect approach was not sufficient to mirror the European environment. From early on, the assessment of land cover was not constrained to this transect but complemented with measurements focused on Europe at a continental scale. Also, continental networks of flux measurements and ecosystem experiments were established, because these were able to encompass a larger inherent variability of climate, geology and land use. Resulting from the Kyoto protocol emphasis moved stronger from observations along transects towards a continental scale quantification of fluxes given the reporting needs. In this process the transect and the networks merged into research clusters, which provided a scaling and verification mechanism. Thus, the European situation may serve as an example of how the initial idea of transects has further evolved and broadened to continental scale studies in a region where anthropogenic land use dominates over climate change.Abbreviations: GPP = Gross primary production; IGBP = International Geosphere Biosphere Programme; NBP = net biome productivity; NEE = Net ecosystem exchange; NEP = Net ecosystem productivity; NPP = Net primary productivity.