The human-developed roads on Earth shattered the surface of the planet into more than 600,000 fragments, a new study has revealed. More than half of the aforementioned figure are smaller than one square kilometer. The study says this has severely reduced the ability of ecosystems to function effectively.
Though roads play an important role in connectivity for the ease of human beings, but this costs very heavy in terms of ecology of the Earth’s natural world. Researchers say the large tracts of valuable road-less areas remain unprotected despite significant efforts to conserve the world’s natural heritage.
A dataset of 36 million kilometres of roads across the landscapes of the earth was used by the researchers from the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development in Germany. They are dividing the landscapes into more than 600,000 pieces that are not directly affected by roads.
Only 7% of these remaining road-less areas are larger than 100 square kilometres. The largest tracts are to be found in the tundra and the boreal forests of North America and Eurasia, as well as some tropical areas of Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. Only 9% of these road-less areas are protected.
Roads caused many problems to the nature. For example, they even interrupt gene flow in animal populations, facilitate the spread of pests and diseases, and increase soil erosion and the contamination of rivers and wetlands.
Road development in previously remote areas allowed the free movement of people, which opened these areas up to severe problems such as illegal logging, poaching and deforestation.
Most importantly, roads trigger the construction of further roads and the subsequent conversion of natural landscapes, a phenomenon the study labels “contagious development.”
“Our global map provides guidance on the location of the most valuable roadless areas,” said Pierre Ibisch, from the Eberswalde University. In many cases they represent remaining tracks of extensive functional ecosystems, and are of key significance to ecological processes, such as regulating the hydrological cycle and the climate,” said Ibisch.
A large data base which was fetched through crowd-sourcing platform to produce a global map for road-less was used by the researchers.
“Our figures overestimate roadless areas, and we know many of the areas have already gone or been reduced in size,” said Monika Hoffmann from Eberswalde University.
“All roads affect the environment in some shape or form including timber extraction tracks and minor dirt roads, and the impacts can be felt far beyond the road edge,” said Nuria Selva, from the Institute of Nature Conservation of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poland.
“The area most severely affected is within a one kilometre band on either side of a road,” said Selva.
(With inputs from PTI)