Researchers find roads shatter Earth’s surface into 600,000 fragments

Roads have made it possible for humans to access almost every region but this comes at a very high cost ecologically to the planet's natural world.

By: PTI | Berlin | Updated: December 18, 2016 6:25 pm
earth surface. earth roads, Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development in Germany, North America and Eurasia, Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development research, latest news, latest science news A new global map of roadless areas shows that the Earth’s surface is shattered by roads into more than 600,000 fragments. (Credit: AAAS Monika Hoffmann)

Earth’s surface is shattered by roads into over 600,000 fragments – more than half of which are smaller that one square kilometre – severely reducing the ability of ecosystems to function effectively, a new study has found.

Roads have made it possible for humans to access almost every region but this comes at a very high cost ecologically to the planet’s natural world. Despite substantial efforts to conserve the world’s natural heritage, large tracts of valuable roadless areas remain unprotected, researchers said.

The researchers from the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development in Germany used a dataset of 36 million kilometres of roads across the landscapes of the earth. They are dividing them into more than 600,000 pieces that are not directly affected by roads.

Of these remaining roadless areas only seven per cent 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 nine per cent of these areas undisturbed by roads are protected.

Roads introduce many problems to nature. For instance, they interrupt gene flow in animal populations,facilitate the spread of pests and diseases, and increase soil erosion and the contamination of rivers and wetlands.

Then there is the free movement of people made possible by road development in previously remote areas, which has 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.

The researchers used a large data base generated through crowd-sourcing platform to produce a global map for roadless. “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.

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  1. A
    Dec 19, 2016 at 9:01 am
    May be Greenpeace and the likes will start telling preaching developing countries not to build any further roads, as it leads to ecosystem imbalance...
    1. H
      Dec 19, 2016 at 5:20 pm
      its your boat and my boat and their boat... all same one single boat.... if you make a or i make a or white world make a ... the boat will sink.... if boat will sink you, me and white world all will;br/gt;lt;br/gt;So, you wanna sink or sail?
      1. A
        Dec 19, 2016 at 7:27 pm
        On one boat, quarter area has all facilities in it with and left three quarter area has not much facilities... Do third quarter area don't have right to have that facilities evenif it is making new ? We all know we are gonna sink someday... We are humans at all... We will survive anyhow
        1. Pahari Bhai
          Dec 20, 2016 at 2:52 am
          There is another grave problem created by roads. Roads block the natural flow of water and its absorption by earth and divert the rain water to certain places which causes water logging and floods.
          1. R
            Dec 19, 2016 at 1:34 pm
            More Trees should be planted for Humans to survive.
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