The importance of keeping natural areas road-free under global change

Dr hab. Nuria Selva
Institute of Nature Conservation, Polish Academy of Sciences, Kraków, Poland. 
Venue: Wednesday, 05.02.2020, 13:00, CeNT Lecture Theatre  0142.
Hosts: Magdalena Niedziałkowska & Marta Szulkin
How to get there: Lecture theatre 0142 is c. ~15 meters to the right after entering CeNT

Abstract: With more than 100 million km of roads worldwide, the road network shapes the environment worldwide. Road impacts are numerous, very complex, time-lagged and extend far beyond the road itself. In most cases, road effects are irreversible; they can hardly be mitigated and compensation measures are usually insufficient. One of the most detrimental effects is the “contagious development” triggered by roads, i.e. roads provide access to previously remote areas, thus promoting more roads and developments, land-use changes, resource extraction and human disturbance. In natural areas, roads are inevitably linked to deforestation, hunting, wildlife trade, biological invasions and fires. Roads are particularly harmful when cutting through primeval and well-preserved ecosystems. In this context, keeping roadless large unfragmented patches of natural habitats is of crucial importance for biodiversity conservation. Roadless areas represent relatively undisturbed forest habitats and functioning ecosystems. They increase landscape connectivity, act as barrier against pests and invasions, contribute to the preservation of native biodiversity and of those species with large spatial requirements and sensitive to human disturbance, and provide important ecosystem services. Roadless areas get special relevance in the context of climate change because of their higher resilience and buffering capacity. Climate crisis strategies should not only focus on reducing emissions, but also on preserving functioning ecosystems. Unnecessary and ecologically damaging roads should be reclaimed to enlarge roadless areas and restore landscape-level processes. Compensation policies of “no-net-loss” of unfragmented lands should be implemented. By keeping natural areas road-free, we contribute to protect them de facto, at practically no financial cost. Avoiding the first cut in intact and primeval habitats is the most cost-effective way to protect them.