An international team of conservation scientists have released a new global map of roadless areas that shows that the Earth’s surface is shattered by roads into more than 600,000 fragments. While roads allow humans to travel to nearly every region in the world, they severely reduce the ability of ecosystems to function effectively. Phys.Org reports: Recent research carried out by an international team of conservation scientists and published in the journal Science used a dataset of 36 million kilometers 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 7 percent are larger than 100 km2. 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 percent 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.”
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