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Saturday, June 23, 2018


Ohhh hello hellooo dear English speaking-thinking-reading-hearing listener, welcome back to me, @sciencemug, the blog-podcast-twitter&Instagram accounts-gofundme unsuccessful campaign holder-entity behind the unsuccessful e-shop that tells you science stories while longing for a sip of truce from all the chaos around and for just a smile from that particular girl, yeah, that one, you know what I mean. Aaaaand that does all of this in Eng?ish, a language that is to proper English what anti-Vaxxer are to something that even remotely makes sense and what a dodo was to a win at the evolution’s lottery. Aaaaand the reaches your ears thanks to the voice of a veeeeeeery dumb human that has been (the voice) kidnapped via a wireless-woo-doo trick.

Oooook, let’s start with a quick recap of the previous episodes.

There’s an international bunch of researchers headed by professor Nuria Selva Fernandez, presently working at the Institute of Nature Conservation Polish Academy of Sciences. The researchers publish a paper on Science where they tell us they created a map of the world’s roadless areas, that is the “terrestrial areas not dissected by roads […]” “that are at least 1 km away from all roads and, therefore, less influenced by road effects”(
The scientists’ map shows that roadless areas with a 1-km buffer to the nearest road cover about 80% of Earth’s land (105 million square kilometers circa).
Moreover the good researchers create a unit-less index (called EVIRA, as in Ecological Value Index of Roadless Areas) that scores the ecological value of the above mentioned roadless areas. The index goes form 0 (0 being the slums of District 9) to 80 (80 being a very good spot of nature among human stuff).
About one third of the roadless areas have a low EVIRA score, but both low and high ecological valuable roadless areas are only by a tiny fraction inside protected lands.
This means, the researchers say, that “[g]lobal protection of ecologically valuable roadless areas is inadequate
(P) and that there “is an urgent need for a global strategy for the effective conservation, restoration, and monitoring of roadless areas and the ecosystems that they encompass(P).
And this is proven by two of the most important global initiative that exist at present to preserve biodiversity and promote a sustainable development: the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 (1), and the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2). Both this global initiatives fail to take into consideration the impact of roads on ecosystems and the need to safeguard roadless areas, in fact the reaching of many of their proposed goals somehow conflicts with the possibility to actually preserve the roadless areas.

If you want a quick example of how important is to protect raodless areas think of this: in the Amazon, unprotected areas near roads and rivers have four times more deforestation than protected areas (3).

So these are the results professor Selva Fernandez and her colleagues get from their massive research work.

Podcast on iTunes
Podcast on Podcast Machine 

Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here

But why do they even care to do such a work, meaning why do they pick roads and roadless areas as the topic of their research?
Weeell dear listener, the answer is: because roads effects on the environment are huge, and the value of roadless areas are huge as well.

Let’s start with a deep look of roads effects, ok? Oh and by the way, dear listener, make no mistake, any type of road causes some effect on the ecosystem, so not only the long, wide paved ones like highways, but also the short, narrow almost invisible unpaved ones, such as a path or less. (

Ok, then, there are seven general direct and indirect effects roads have on ecosystems: “mortality from road construction, mortality from collision with vehicles,
modification of animal behavior, alteration of the physical environment, alteration of the chemical environment, spread of alien species, and increased use of areas by humans [(read deforestation et similia)]” (4).

by sciencemug
Pic free to use by Deva Darshan (source: Unsplash)

 [Adapted by @sciencemug]

 As for mortality from road construction, well, just think that, according to data of 1996 of the US Department of Transportation, the construction of the more than 13million kilometers of roads in the USA destroyed almost 5million hectares of land and water bodies that sustained plants, animals and other organisms (so basically one Denmark or two New Jersey gone). Moreover road soil is 200 times more compact then regular soil and this fact dramatically decreases the survival rate of soil organisms which are not directly killed by the construction of the road (4).

The mortality from collision with vehicles involves any sort of animal like for example moose, armadillos, wolves, hawks, owls, tropical forest birds, snakes, crocodiles, iguanas, amphibians and of course a plethora of invertebrates, especially insects. And road kills, dear listener, are not trivial in numbers, as they can sensibly impact on these animals’ population’s demography. Vehicle collision, for example, is in fact the first cause of death for moose in Alaska and Barn Owls in the UK, the second one for lynx in Spain and the third one for wolves in Minnesota and deer in New York. (4)

Roads induce modification of animal behavior causing home range shifts as well as alteration of the movement patterns, rate of the reproductive success, escape response and even the physiological state of animals (it has been proven that the heart rate and therefore the metabolic rate and energy expenditure
of sheep increases near roads (
4)). Moreover roads, acting like barriers, can isolate populations and even reduce (and not only for animals) the population gene flow (5), where population gene flow means “[t]he movement of genes between populations. This may happen through the migration of organisms or the movement of gametes (such as pollen blown to a new location)” (source

Roads alteration of the physical environment, and alteration of the chemical environment involve several issues. Soil compaction, as mentioned before (which can persist even decades after a road stops being used); reduction of water vapor transport; increase of surface temperature so that the heat stored in the roads during the day is released at night creating heat island around the roads themselves. Besides road traffic mobilizes and spreads dust and pollutants which, spreading around can contaminate aquatic ecosystems, and covering plants can impair their photosynthesis, respiration and transpiration (

As for the alteration of the chemical environment, well, maintenance and use of roads pump maaaany chemicals into the environment, especially heavy metals like lead, aluminum, iron, cadmium, copper, manganese, titanium, nickel, zinc, and boron. These heavy metals end up in water reservoirs and plants and animals tissues, that is, eventually, in the food you humans eat and the water you drink.

Besides heavy metals, other road-related pollutants are salts (that alter the pH and chemical composition of soil and water) and poisons like dioxin and other organic pollutants like it (4).

Spread of exotic alien species and diseases is another big issue connected to roads. Roads facilitate dispersal of alien species via three mechanisms: roads create a suitable habitat for aliens by altering original conditions, roads stress or kill native species making space for the exotic ones, roads allow easier movement and alien seeds dispersal (
4). A 2007 study done on a motorway in Berlin shows that from about 600 to 1600 seeds/per square meter/per year are spread by vehicles (6). Of these “lost” seeds, those of exotic species were more than the half (the 54.4%), and “[a]mong the samples [the] 19.1% [of the seeds were of] highly invasive species that exhibit detrimental effects on native biodiversity in some parts of the world” (6).

Bernard and the roads (by @sciencemug)
Pic free to use by Truman Adrian Lobato De Faria (source: Unsplash)

 [Adapted by @sciencemug]
(And with Bernard as the Alien)

The most scary parts of this research are: that more than one third of the times the seed dispersal is a long-distance one (more than 250m from the road), that long-distance dispersal “occurred significantly more frequently in seeds of non-native [...] than native species” (6) and that it is “a routine rather than an occasional mechanism” (6). 

So now you know how easy for us body snatchers is the job. Buahahahahaha! Joking, although I probably have armpits, well, I’m not only brainless, but also body-less, so nothing to snatch, indeed… But that doesn’t mean there’s some pod waiting for you, listener… Buahahahahah!

Anyway, dear listener or body snatched listener, the last but not least general effect that roads have on ecosystems is thecontagious development” (P) that is the increased use, that then spreads, of formerly unreachable areas by humans. You know, dear listener, the easier to get to somewhere, the easier it is to do human stuff like to poach or to legally and illegally hunt, fish, dig mines, build resorts and so on and on (4). Not to mention the possibility to cut trees.
Deforestation is a major thing when one think about road related environment effects. Let’s make an example and consider the Amazon deforestation.

[N]early 95% of all deforestation occur[s] within 5.5 km of roads or 1 km of rivers” (3).
Considering that, in the Brazilian Amazon, “for every kilometer of legal road there are nearly three kilometers of illegal roads” (7) may be the numbers are even worst.

So dear listener, you start with the so called “first cut”, the first road built in a formerly pristine place, than from this initial road a network of secondary and tertiary roads spreads leading to a big increase of the spatial extent of habitat disruption.

Again, let’s see what happened in the Amazon. “The [construction of the] first paved highway across the Brazilian Amazon [begins] in the early 1970s as a narrow cut through the rain forest. Since then, it has evolved into a 400 km-wide slash of forest destruction across the eastern Brazilian Amazon(7).

Even just upgrading roads can be detrimental for the ecosystem. In wet places like rain forests, during the wet season unpaved roads become mud nightmares, that is unusable, hence limiting road related human activities like deforestation. But paving them changes things. “Paving of the Interoceanic Highway, for instance, has led to dramatic increases in deforestation and illegal gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon”, not to mention, of course, the road kills (7).

And, dear listener, it’s not that roads are going to disappear.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), estimates (8) that, by 2050, the world will need a 60% increase of combined road and rail network length, that is, for the roads, to add nearly 25 million kilometers of paved roads (not to mention the unpaved ones). Whoa, 25 millions kilometers of paved roads in the next 30 years, it’s enough road to encircle Earth 600 times (8). “In addition, it is expected that between 45000 [...] and 77000 [square kilometers] of new parking spaces will be added [...]. In total, road, rail and parking infrastructure by 2050 is expected to account for between 250000 […] and 350000 [square kilometers] of built surface area – or roughly the size of the United Kingdom and Germany [...], respectively” (8).

The amount of money spent for construction, reconstruction, upgrade and maintenance of roads from here to 2050 is estimated to be 120 trillion US dollars, that is the 2% of the projected global GDP to 2050 (8).

On top of this, nearly the 90% of these new roads and infrastructures will be built in developing nations which have “many of the planet’s most biologically rich and environmentally important ecosystems” (

So, looooots of new roads are soon to come, dear listener.
This mean a further shrinking of roadless areas.
But why roadless areas are so important? What’s for human beings if they are preserved?
The answer after the break.

Hi, my name’s Pavel Mcladoodoolancasterbowkwkisks, you probably remember me for causing a cramp to the Broca’s area of your brain just a second ago.
I’m here to sensitize you to a very important environmental question: the lack of policy to protect and preserve the last free living non domesticated exemplars of

Homo dude-in-white-and-short-socks-over-sandals, a species of meek bipeds whose flocks in the past were usually seen in warm sunny habitats and that now fashion pesticides, good taste epidemics and the conspiracy of something have led to the brink of extinction.
white socks N sandals (by @sciencemug)
White socks & sandals in the wild fighting for their life
Image is a CC BY 3.0 pic by Oddman47 (source Wikimedia Commons)
[Adapted by @sciencemug]

If you, like me, love nature and biodiversity, please take action and send a clear message to your sock/shoes shop of choice to ask for more attention about this important issue.

This message was approved by the WOGI (World Ohmanwhatawasteofmytime Global Initiative)

So dear listener, in the end one can ask him/herself why bother and take care of roadless areas.
For starter roadless areas contribute to preserve biodiversity, are habitats that can keep well fed and alive endangered species, roadless areas are barriers against the spread of pests, invasive species, and both animal and human diseases. Roadless areas, especially if large, grant crop pollination, air quality, water supply and erosion control and, dear listener, roadless areas are of much importance when it comes to climate change (5).
Roadless areas, indeed, are less stressed ecosystems that, as a consequence, are more capable than the ecosystems already altered by human activities to cope with the consequences, to recover faster and to be less influenced by external forces like the climatic threats (5).
Moreover, roadless areas can become a safe heaven for those species forced, by climate changes, to move from their original habitats (5).
Areas with no roads are better at the carbon sequestration game. Think of it, dear listener, in places with low accessibility (like the remote mountain areas) the amount of deadwood and soil carbon should be higher (5), hence, if the carbon is there it is not in the air, and if carbon is not in the air, love prevails in the air, Cupid is happier, the chocolate industry thrives, meaning more jobs and more money for the people, more work, given the chocolate, for the dentists who then pay more taxes, more taxes mean more welfare state, that coupled with more chocolate in the streets mean less stress and more joy in general. So in conclusion, less roads means less carbon in the air, therefore less CO2 in the atmosphere, and more chocolate for everybody. Moreover areas with no or just a few roads provide protection against the impacts of storm events, like flooding, landslides and wildfires, besides acting as actual weather extremes buffers and keep local climates stable (5).
Anyway, let’s make the whole thing more concrete, dear listener, let’s put the nice word aside and talk about money.
Let’s consider, for example, the economic value of the forests ecosystems that roads contribute to put at risk.
I quote from a review about the economic value of forest ecosystem: “[i]n forests, ecosystem components such as microorganisms, soils and vegetative cover interact to purify air and water, regulate the climate and recycle nutrients and wastes. Without these and many other ecosystem goods and services, life as we know it would not be possible” (9).
It has been calculated that “the total value of forest ecosystem goods and services [is of] $4.7 trillion annually […]”.
So let’s process the number:
the total value of forest ecosystem goods and services [is of] $4.7 trillion annually”. 4.7 trillion bucks are roughly half of the GDP of the Euro area and China, one third of that of the European Union, one forth of the GDP of the USA, or, if you prefer, three times and a half the GDP of Russia, two times the GDP of France and India. It’s about the GDP of Japan (data from

The forests in USA alone are worth 63.2 billion bucks a year (
The 75% of the forest ecosystem value is accounted by climate regulation, waste treatment and food production (9).
As for biodiversity, it’s esteemed that the US. agriculture would spend $54 billion a year if it had to use chemical pesticides to replace the natural pest control services from all natural ecosystems. Moreover, the pollination job done by natural ecosystems is worth $4 billion to $7 billion annually to the US. agriculture (9).
Not to mention the recreation factor. The economic value of tourism in the US roadless areas is calculated in 600millions dollars a year (9).
Sooo, dear listener, as you can see, loots of money from the roadless areas.
But again, roads are not only useful, are essential to humankind well being, you humans can not simply get rid of them or even stop building them, so, what you can do?
Well, professor Silva Fernandez and her colleagues first of all say that world policy must become conscious of the necessity to preserve, restore and monitor the still existing roadless areas.

Some things that can be done are to avoid the before mentioned first cut (7), meaning to leave pristine areas alone, put a greater emphasis on the so called ‘offshore’ projects that don’t need a road network (7). An example is a natural-gas project deep in the Peruvian Amazon which has no road linkages, with all personnel brought by helicopter in and out the site, and with two pipelines buried and the area above them recovered with plants and trees (7).

Then strict early screenings on the sites of planned new roads must become a must, along with greater transparency, a strong public engagement and a systematic thoughtful analysis of both direct and indirect effects of new roads and road upgrades (7).

So, dear listener, it’s a matter of strategy.
Aaaand I am done.

The paper this post is about (P)
Ibisch et al (2016). A global map of roadless areas and their conservation status. Science 354, 1423–1427.

1- COP Decision X/2 - X/2. Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.
2- VV.AA. (2014). Progress towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets: An assessment of biodiversity trends, policy scenarios and key actions, Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (GBO-4) (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity).
3- Barber, C.P., Cochrane, M.A., Souza, C.M., and Laurance, W.F. (2014). Roads, deforestation, and the mitigating effect of protected areas in the Amazon. Biological Conservation 177, 203–209.
4- Trombulak, S.C., and Frissell, C.A. (2000). Review of Ecological Effects of Roads on Terrestrial and Aquatic Communities. Conservation Biology 14, 18–30.
5- Selva, N., Kreft, S., Kati, V., Schluck, M., Jonsson, B.-G., Mihok, B., Okarma, H., and Ibisch, P.L. (2011). Roadless and Low-Traffic Areas as Conservation Targets in Europe. Environmental Management 48, 865. 
6- von der Lippe, M., and Kowarik, I. (2007). Long-distance dispersal of plants by vehicles as a driver of plant invasions. Conserv. Biol. 21, 986–996.
7- Laurance, W.F., Peletier-Jellema, A., Geenen, B., Koster, H., Verweij, P., Van Dijck, P., Lovejoy, T.E., Schleicher, J., and Van Kuijk, M. (2015). Reducing the global environmental impacts of rapid infrastructure expansion. Current Biology 25, R259–R262.
8- Dulac, J. (2013). Global land transport infrastructure requirements. International Energy Agency IEA.
9- Krieger, D.J. (2009). The economic value of forest ecosystem services: A review. The Wilderness Society

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