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Chapter 3. Effects of Infrastructure on Nature
This chapter presents an overview of the major ecological impacts of infrastructure, with a
particular focus on those effects that impact upon wildlife and their habitats. The focus of this
chapter is on the primary effects of transportation infrastructure on nature and wildlife, as
these are usually the most relevant to the transport sector. Secondary effects following the
construction of new roads or railways, e.g. consequent industrial development, or changes in
human settlement and landuse patterns, are dealt with in more depth in Chapter 5 (Section
5.5). For more discussion and data on secondary effects see Section 5.5.
The physical presence of roads and railways in the landscape creates new habitat edges, alters
hydrological dynamics, and disrupts natural processes and habitats. Maintenance and
operational activities contaminate the surrounding environment with a variety of chemical
pollutants and noise. In addition, infrastructure and traffic impose movement barriers to most
terrestrial animals and cause the death of millions of individual animals per year. The various
biotic and abiotic impacts operate in a synergetic way locally as well as at a broader scale.
Transportation infrastructure causes not only the loss and isolation of wildlife habitat, but
leads to a fragmentation of the landscape in a literal sense.
An increasing body of evidence relating to the direct and indirect ecological effects of
transportation infrastructure on nature includes the comprehensive reviews of van der Zande
et al. (1980); Ellenberg et al. (1981); Andrews (1990); Bennett (1991); Reck and Kaule
(1993); Forman (1995); Spellerberg (1998); Forman and Alexander (1998); and Trombulak
and Frissell (2000). Impressive, empirical data has also been presented in the proceedings of
various symposia (e.g. Bernard et al., 1987; Canters et al., 1997; Pierre-LePense and
Carsignol, 1999; Evink et al., 1996, 1998 and 1999; and Huijser et al., 1999). Bibliographies
on the topic have been compiled by Jalkotzky et al. (1997), Clevenger (1998), Glitzner et al.
(1999), and Holzang et al. (2000). Readers are encourages to consult these complementary
sources for further information on the topics discussed in brief below.
3.1. PRIMARY ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS
Most empirical data on the effects of infrastructure on wildlife refers to primary effects
measured at a local scale. Primary ecological effects are caused by the physical presence of
the infrastructure link and its traffic. Five major categories of primary effects can be
distinguished (Figure 3.1; see also: van der Zande et al. (1980); Bennett (1991); Forman
Habitat loss is an inevitable consequence of infrastructure construction. Besides
the physical occupation of land, disturbance and barrier effects in the wider
environment further decrease the amount of habitat that is suitable or available
Disturbance/Edge effects result from pollution of the physical, chemical and
biological environment as a result of infrastructure construction and operation.
Toxins and noise affect a much wider zone than that which is physically
Seiler, A. (2002) Effects of Infrastructure on Nature. In: Trocmé, M.; Cahill, S.; De Vries, J.G.; Farrall, H.;
Folkeson, L.; Fry, G.; Hicks, C. and Peymen, J. (Eds.) COST 341 - Habitat Fragmentation due to transportation
infrastructure: The European Review, pp. 31-50. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities,
Mortality levels associated with traffic are steadily rising (millions of individuals
are killed on infrastructure each year in Europe), but for most common species
this, traffic mortality it is not considered as a severe threat to population survival.
Collisions between vehicles and wildlife are also an important traffic safety
issue, and attract wider public interest for this reason.
Barrier effects are experienced by most terrestrial animals. Infrastructure
restricts the animals’ range, makes habitats inaccessible and can lead to isolation
of the population.
Corridor habitats along infrastructure can be seen as either positive (in already heavily
transformed low diversity landscapes) or negative (in natural well conserved
landscapes where the invasion of non native, sometimes pest species, can be
Figure 3.1 - Schematic representation of the five primary ecological effects of
infrastructure which together lead to the fragmentation of habitat. (Modified from van
der Zande et al., 1980)
The impact of these primary effects on populations and the wider ecosystem varies according
to the type of infrastructure, landscape, and habitat concerned. Individual elements of
infrastructure always form part of a larger infrastructure network, where synonymous effects
with other infrastructure links, or with natural barriers and corridors in the landscape, may
magnify the significance of the primary effects. The overall fragmentation impact on the
landscape due to the combined infrastructure network may thus not be predictable from data
on individual roads and railways. When evaluating primary (ecological) effects of a planned
infrastructure project it is essential to consider both the local and landscape scales, and
fundamentally, the cumulative impact of the link when it becomes part of the surrounding
3.2. HABITAT LOSS
3.2.1. Land take
Motorways may consume more than 10 hectares (ha) of land per kilometre of road and as a
large part of that surface is metalled/sealed it is consequently lost as a natural habitat for
plants and animals. Provincial and local roads occupy less area per kilometre, but collectively
they comprise at least 95% of the total road network and hence their cumulative effect in the
landscape can be considerably greater. If all the associated features, such as verges,
embankments, slope cuttings, parking places, and service stations etc. are included, the total
area designated for transport is likely to be several times larger than simply the paved surface
of the road (Figure 3.2). In most European countries, the allocation of space for new
infrastructure is a significant problem for landuse planning. It is not surprising therefore that
landtake is a fundamental consideration in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies
and forms a baseline for designing mitigation and compensation measures in modern
infrastructure projects (OECD, 1994, see also Section 5.4.1).
The physical occupation of land due to infrastructure is most significant at the local scale; at
broader scales it becomes a minor issue compared to other types of landuse. Even in rather
densely populated countries such as The Netherlands, Belgium or Germany, the total area
occupied by infrastructure is generally estimated to be less than 5-7% (Jedicke, 1994). In
Sweden, where transportation infrastructure is sparser, roads and railways are estimated to
cover about 1.5% of the total land surface whilst urban areas comprise 3% (Seiler and
Eriksson, 1997; Sweden Statistics, 1999).
Figure 3.2 - Slope cuttings along a road in Spain. (Photo by Martí Pey/Minuartia
The total area used for roads and railways is, however, not a reliable measure of the loss of
natural habitat. The disturbance influence on surrounding wildlife, vegetation, hydrology, and
landscape spreads much wider than the area that is physically occupied and contributes far
more to the overall loss and degradation of habitat than the road body itself. In addition,
infrastructure barriers can isolate otherwise suitable habitats and make them inaccessible for
wildlife. The scale and extent of the spread of disturbances is influenced by many factors
including: road and traffic characteristics, landscape topography and hydrology, wind patterns
and vegetation type and cover. In addition, the consequent impact on wildlife and ecosystems
also depends on the sensitivity of the different species concerned. To understand the pattern,
more has to be learned about the different agents of disturbance.
Many attempts have been made to assess the overall width of the disturbance zone around
infrastructure developments (Figure 3.3). Depending on which impacts have been measured,
the estimations range from some tens of metres (Mader, 1987a) to several hundred metres
(Reichelt, 1979; Reijnen et al., 1995; Forman and Deblinger, 2000) and even kilometres
(Reck and Kaule, 1993; Forman et al., 1997). Thus, despite its limited physical extent,
transportation infrastructure is indeed one of the more important actors in the landscape and
its total influence on landuse and habitat function has probably been widely underestimated.
Forman (2000) estimated that transportation infrastructure in the USA directly affects an area
that is about 19 times larger than the 1% of the USA land surface that is physically occupied.
Figure 3.3 - Disturbance effects spreading from a road into the surrounding landscape.
The distance over which disturbances affect nature depends on topography, wind
direction, vegetation and the type of disturbance. The width of the affected zone is likely
to be larger than some hundred meters on average. (Redrawn after Forman et al., 1997)
3.3.1. Physical disturbance
The construction of infrastructure affects the physical environment due to the need to clear,
level, fill, and cut natural material. Construction work changes soil density, landscape relief,
surface- and groundwater flows, and microclimate, and thus alters land cover, vegetation and
habitat composition. Wetlands and riparian habitats are especially sensitive to changes in
hydrology e.g. those caused by embankments (Findlay and Bourdages, 2000) and cuttings
which may drain aquifers and increase the risk of soil erosion and extensive earthslides that
have the potential to pollute watercourses with sediments (e.g. Forman et al., 1997;
Trombulak and Frissell, 2000). The canalisation of surface water into ditches can also
significantly change water run-off and debris flows, and thereby modify disturbance regimes
in riparian networks (Jones et al., 2000).
The clearance of a road corridor changes microclimatic conditions: it increases light intensity,
reduces air humidity, and creates a greater daily variation in air temperature. These changes
are naturally strongest where the road passes through forested habitats e.g. Mader (1987a)
observed changes in forest microclimate up to 30 metres from the edge of a forest road.
Artificial edges produced by road construction are usually sharp and can be compared to the
new edges created by clear cutting in forests (Jedicke, 1994). The opening of the forest
canopy will adversely affect the occurrence of forest interior species such as lichens or
mosses, but can favour species adapted to open and edge habitats (e.g. Ellenberg et al., 1981;
3.3.2. Chemical disturbance
Chemical pollutants such as road dust, salt, heavy metals, fertiliser nutrients, and toxins are
agents which contribute towards the disturbance effect caused by transportation infrastructure.
Most of these pollutants accumulate in close proximity to the infrastructure but, in some
cases, direct effects on vegetation and fauna can be observed at distances over several
hundreds of metres away (e.g. Evers, 1976; Santelmann and Gorham, 1988; Bergkvist et al.,
1989; Hamilton and Harrison, 1991; Reck and Kaule, 1993; Forbes, 1995; Angold, 1997).
Dust, mobilised from the infrastructure, is transported and deposited along verges and in
nearby vegetation; epiphytic lichens and mosses in wetlands and arctic ecosystems are
especially sensitive to this kind of pollution (e.g. Auerbach et al., 1997). De-icing and other
salts (e.g. NaCl, CaCl2, KCl, MgCl2) can cause extensive damage to vegetation (especially in
boreal and alpine regions (Blomqvist, 1998) and to coniferous forests), contaminate drinking
water supplies and reduce the pH-level in soil (which in turn increases the mobility of heavy
metals) (Bauske and Goetz, 1993; Reck and Kaule, 1993). Heavy metals and trace metals e.g.
Pb, Zn, Cu, Cr, Cd, Al (derived from petrol, de-icing salts, and dust) can accumulate in plant
and animal tissues and can affect their reproduction and survival rates (Scanlon, 1987 and
1991). Traffic exhaust emissions contain toxins such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,
dioxins, ozone, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and many fertilising chemicals. Changes in plant
growth and plant species diversity have been observed and directly attributed to traffic
emissions in lakes (Gjessing et al., 1984) and in heathland at a distance of over 200 metres
away from the road (Angold, 1997).
3.3.3. Traffic noise
Although disturbance effects associated with noise are more difficult to measure and less well
understood than those related to chemicals, it is considered to be one of the major factors
polluting natural environments in Europe (Vangent and Rietveld, 1993; Lines et al., 1994).
Areas free from noise disturbance caused by traffic, industry or agriculture have become rare
at a European scale and tranquillity is perceived as an increasingly valuable resource (Shaw,
1996). Although noise seldom has an immediate physiological effect on humans, long
exposure to noise can induce psychological stress and eventually lead to physiological
disorder (e.g. Stansfeld et al., 1993; Lines et al., 1994; Job, 1996; Babisch et al., 1999).
Whether wildlife is similarly stressed by noise is questionable (see Andrews, 1990), however,
timid species might interpret traffic noise as an indicator of the presence of humans and
consequently avoid noisy areas. For instance, wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) avoid habitats
near roads or utilise these areas less frequently than would be expected from their occurrence
in the adjacent habitat (Klein, 1971). Traffic noise avoidance is also well documented for elk,
caribou and brown bear (Rost and Bailey, 1979; Curatolo and Murphy, 1986). However,
whether this avoidance is related to the amplitude or frequency of traffic noise is not known.
Birds seem to be especially sensitive to traffic noise, as it directly interferes with their vocal
communication and consequently their territorial behaviour and mating success (Reijnen and
Foppen, 1994). Various studies have documented reduced densities of birds breeding near
trafficked roads (e.g. Veen, 1973; Räty, 1979; van der Zande et al., 1980; Ellenberg et al.,
1981; Illner, 1992; Reijnen and Foppen, 1994). Extensive studies on willow warblers
(Phylloscopus trochilus) in The Netherlands showed the birds suffered lower reproductivity,
lower average survival, and higher emigration rates close to trafficked roads (Foppen and
Reijnen, 1994). Box 3.1 details some of the major studies that have contributed towards
knowledge in this field.
It has been shown that environmental factors such as the structure of verge vegetation, the
type of adjacent habitat, and the relief of the landscape will influence both noise spread and
species density, and thus alter the amplitude of the noise impact (e.g. Reijnen et al., 1997;
Kuitunen et al., 1998; Meunier et al., 1999). If verges provide essential breeding habitats that
are rare or missing in the surrounding landscape, species density along infrastructure may not
necessarily be reduced, even though disturbance effects may reduce the environmental quality
of these habitats (Laursen, 1981; Warner, 1992; Meunier et al., 1999). Although strategic
research regarding the disturbance thresholds of species in relation to infrastructure
construction and operation is lacking, the species with the following attributes are considered
to be most vulnerable to disturbance and development impacts (Hill et al., 1997):
species with relatively low reproductive rates;
species living in open (e.g. wetland) rather than closed (e.g. forest) habitats;
species using traditional sites; and
species whose populations are concentrated in a few key areas (UK-SoA, 5.4.3).
3.3.4. Visual and other disturbance
The effects of traffic also include visual disturbance e.g. from artificial lighting or vehicle
movement but these impacts do not generally receive as much attention as traffic noise or
toxins. Artificial lighting has a conflicting effect on different species of fauna and flora: it can
act as a valuable deterrent to deer and a readily accessible insect food supply to bats, but at
the same time it can disrupt growth regulation in plants (Campbell, 1990; Spellerberg, 1998),
breeding and behaviour patterns in birds (Lofts and Merton, 1968; Hill, 1992), bats (Rydell,
1992), nocturnal frogs (Buchanan, 1993), and moth populations (Frank, 1990; Svensson and
Rydell, 1998). A study on the influence of road lights on a black-tailed godwit (Limosa
limosa) population in The Netherlands, for example, indicated that the breeding density of
this species was significantly reduced in a zone of 200 to 250 metres around the lights (De
Molenaar et al., 2000).
Certain types of road lights, such as white (mercury vapour) street lamps are especially
attractive to insects, and therefore also to aerial-hawking bat species such as pipistrelles
(Pipistrellus pipistrellus) (Rydell, 1992; Blake et al., 1994). This increases the exposure of
bats to traffic and may entail increased mortality due to collisions with vehicles. Furthermore,
lit roads can constitute linear landscape elements, which bats may use to navigate in open
Box 3.1 - Studies on the effect of traffic noise on breeding birds
Between 1984 and 1991, the Institute for Forest and Nature Research in The Netherlands
has carried out extensive studies of the effect of motorways and roads with traffic
intensities between 5,000 and 60,000 vehicles a day on populations of breeding birds
(Reijnen et al., 1992; Reijnen, 1995). Two types of landscape, forest (Reijnen et al.,
1995a) and open grassland (Reijnen et al., 1996) were compared. For 33 of the 45 forest
species and 7 of 12 open grassland species, a road traffic effect was established and bird
densities declined where the traffic noise exceeded 50 decibels (dbA). Birds in woodland
reacted at noise levels of only 40 dbA. It was concluded that road traffic has an effect on
the total density of all species and that there are clear indications that traffic noise is the
main disturbing factor responsible for reduced densities of breeding birds near roads.
Based on the observed relationship between noise burden and bird densities, Reijnen,
Veenbaas and Foppen (1995) proposed a simple model predicting the distance over which
breeding bird populations might be affected by traffic noise (Figure 3.4). According to this
model, roads with a traffic volume of 10,000 vehicles per day and a traffic speed of 120
km/h, passing through an area with 70% woodland, would significantly affect bird
densities at distances between 40 and 1,500 m. When the model is applied to the entire
area of The Netherlands, it suggests that at least 17% of bird habitats are affected by
traffic noise (Reijnen et al., 1995b).
Figure 3.4 - Schematic representation of the impact of traffic noise on breeding bird
populations in The Netherlands. When the noise load exceeds a threshold of between 40
and 50 dBA, bird densities may drop significantly. The sensitivity to noise and thus the
threshold is different between species and between forest and open habitats. (From
Reijnen, Veenbaas and Foppen, 1995)
Helldin and Seiler (2001) tested the predictions of Reijnen et al. (1995a) model for
Swedish landscapes and found that the expected reduction in breeding bird densities could
not be verified. On the contrary, some species even tended to increase in densities towards
the road. It was concluded that the Dutch model might not be directly applicable in other
countries and that habitat changes as a consequence of road construction under some
circumstances could override the negative effects of traffic noise on the surroundings (S-
Species are negatively affected due to the artificial lighting upsetting their natural biological
systems which are reliant on day length, and disturbing their spatial orientation and diurnal
activity patterns. It is therefore possible that mitigation measures will also have conflicting
effects on different species. From the studies that have been carried out, the following basic
principles for reducing the impact of road lighting are suggested:
Avoid lighting on roads crossing natural areas; and
Use methods of lighting which are less alluring, especially for insects.
The movement of vehicles (probably in combination with noise) can also alter behaviour and
induce stress reactions in wildlife. Madsen (1985), for instance, observed that geese foraging
near roads in Denmark were more sensitive to human disturbance than when feeding
elsewhere. Reijnen et al. (1995a) did not observe any effect of the visibility of moving cars on
breeding birds, however, Kastdalen (pers. comm.) reported that moose (Alces alces)
approaching a fauna passage under a motorway in Norway ran off as large trucks passed
overhead. Heavy trucks and, more especially, high-speed trains produce intensive, but
discontinous noise, vibration and visual disturbance which has the effect of frightening many
mammals and birds. It is documented that many larger mammals avoid habitats in the vicinity
of trafficked roads and railways (e.g. Klein, 1971; Rost and Bailey, 1979; Newmark et al.,
1996), but this avoidance results from many different interacting factors, amongst which noise
and visual disturbance from vehicles comprise a small part.
Artificial lighting, traffic noise, chemical pollutants, microclimatic and hydrological changes,
vibration and movement are just a few sources of disturbance that alter the habitats adjacent
to infrastructure. In many situations, such disturbances are probably of marginal importance
to wildlife, and many animals habituate quickly to constant disturbance (as long as they do
not experience immediate danger). This does not imply, however, that disturbance should not
be considered during the EIA process. On the contrary, because measures to mitigate against
these types of disturbance are usually simple and inexpensive to install, they can easily be
considered and integrated during the planning and design process. Many of the studies cited
above were not specifically designed to directly investigate the disturbance effect of
infrastructure, nor to inform the development of tools for impact evaluation or mitigation.
However, to assess the width and intensity of the road-effect zone, research is needed that
specifically addresses the issue of the spread of disturbance and the effect thresholds for
individual species. Until there is a better understanding of such issues, the precautionary
principle should be applied in all cases to prevent unnecessary negative effects.
3.4. CORRIDOR FUNCTION
Planted areas adjacent to infrastructure are highly disturbed environments, often hostile to
many wildlife species, yet they can still provide attractive resources such as shelter, food or
nesting sites, and facilitate the spread of species. In heavily exploited landscapes,
infrastructure verges can provide valuable refuges for species that otherwise could not
survive. Verges, varying in width from a few metres up to several tens of metres, are
multipurpose areas, having to fulfil technical requirements such as providing free sight for
drivers thus promoting road safety, and screening the road from the surrounding landscape.
Typically, traffic safety requires that the vegetation adjacent to roads is kept open and grassy
but farther away from the road, verges are often planted with trees and shrubs for aesthetic
reasons, or to buffer the spread of salt and noise (Figure 3.5). Balancing technical and
biological interests in the design and management of verges is a serious challenge to civil
engineering and ecology. It offers a great opportunity for the transport sector to increase and
protect biodiversity at large scale (Mader, 1987b; Van Bohemen et al., 1991; Jedicke, 1994).
Figure 3.5 - Verges can vary considerably between different landscapes and countries.
Left: A motorway in southern Sweden consisting only of an open ditch. Toxins and salt
from the road surface can easily spread onto the adjacent agricultural field. Right: A
highway in Germany. Densely planted shrubs and trees along roads provide potential
nesting sites for birds and screen the road and its traffic from the surrounding
landscape. (Photos by A. Seiler)
3.4.1. Verges as habitat for wildlife
Numerous inventories indicate the great potential of verges to support a diverse range of plant
and animal species (e.g. Hansen and Jensen, 1972; Mader et al., 1983; Van der Sluijs and Van
Bohemen, 1991; Sjölund et al., 1999). Way (1977) reported that verges in Great Britain
supported 40 of the 200 native bird species, 20 of 50 mammalian, all 6 reptilian species, 5 of
6 amphibian, and 25 of the 60 butterfly species occurring in the country. In areas, where much
of the native vegetation has been destroyed due to agriculture, forestry or urban development,
verges can serve as a last resort for wildlife (Loney and Hobbs, 1991). Many plant and animal
species in Europe that are associated with traditional (and now rare) grassland and pasture
habitats, may find a refuge in the grassy verges along motorways and railways (Sayer and
Schaefer, 1989; Melman and Verkaar, 1991; Ihse, 1995; Auestad et al., 1999). Shrubs and
trees can provide valuable nesting sites for birds and small mammals (Adams and Geis, 1973;
Laursen, 1981; Havlin, 1987; Meunier et al., 1999) and also offer food and shelter for larger
species (Klein, 1971; Rost and Bailey, 1979).
Other elements of the infrastructure itself can also provide attractive, yet sometimes
hazardous, habitat for wildlife. For instance, stone walls and drainage pipes under motorways
in Catalonia, Northeast Spain, are often populated by lizards and common wall geckos
(Tarentola mauritanica) (Rosell and Rivas, 1999). Cavities in the rocky embankments of
railways may be used as shelter and breeding sites by lizards (Reck and Kaule, 1993) and bats
may find secure resting sites underneath bridges (Keeley and Tuttle, 1999). However, caution
needs to be given to the inherent hazards associated with these structures. In the UK, for
example, drainage pipes are recognised as representing a significant mortality risk to reptiles
(Tony Sangwine, pers comm.). Careful design, management and maintenance of these
structures is required in order to minimise the potentially negative impacts on the wildlife
utilizing them. The first objective should be to identify which engineering elements may be of
benefit to which species, and the second to determine how this benefit can be maximised
without compromising the primary function of the structure.
Many wildlife species can benefit from verges if they provide valuable resources that are rare
or missing in the surrounding landscape. However, it is unlikely that these human-made
habitats will develop the ecological value of comparable natural habitat types found some
distance from the infrastructure. The composition of species found in transportation
infrastructure verges is generally skewed towards a higher proportion of generalists and
pioneers that can cope with high levels of disturbance (Hansen and Jensen, 1972; Adams and
Geis, 1973; Niering and Goodwin, 1974; Douglass, 1977; Mader et al., 1983; Blair, 1996). It
is not surprising that species, which regularly visit road corridors to forage or nest, feature
frequently in traffic mortality statistics (see Section 3.5). In this respect, infrastructure
corridors may act as an ecological trap, outwardly offering favourable habitat conditions but
with the hidden high risk of mortality. When designing and managing verges, it is therefore
advisable to consider the risk of creating an ecological trap that may kill more species than it
3.4.2. Verges as movement corridors for wildlife
As well as providing a habitat for wildlife, verges may also serve as a conduit for species
movement (active or passive) like ‘natural’ corridors in the landscape (see Section 2.4). In
The Netherlands, bank voles (Clethrinomys glareolus) have colonised the Zuid-Beveland
peninsula after moving along wooded verges of railways and motorways (Bekker and
Mostert, 1998). Getz et al. (1978) documented that meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus)
dispersed over about 100 km in six years along grassy verges in Illinois, USA. Kolb (1984)
and Trewhella and Harris (1990) observed that the movement of foxes (Vulpes vulpes) into
the Edinburgh area of the UK was strongly influenced by the presence and direction of
railway lines. Badgers living in the city of Trondheim, Norway, are known to use riverbanks
and road verges to move within the city (Bevanger, pers. comm.). The actual surface of the
infrastructure (mainly small roads with little traffic) may also be used as pathways by larger
mammals. Vehicle and human movement along the infrastructure may also serve as a vector
for plants, seeds or small, less mobile animals (Schmidt, 1989; Bennett, 1991). For instance,
Wace (1977) found seeds of 259 plant species in the sludge of a car-washer in Canberra,
Australia, some of which derived from habitats more than 100 km away. This accidental
transport of seeds may offer an explanation for the high proportion of exotic and weed species
found along verges (Mader et al., 1983; Tyser and Worley, 1992; Ernst, 1998) that are
considered a severe threat to native flora (Usher, 1988; Spellerberg, 1998).
It is clear that infrastructure verges can facilitate animal movement and enable the spread of
plants and other sessile species. It may therefore seem feasible to integrate infrastructure
corridors into the existing (natural) ecological network (Figure 2.6). However, several
important characteristics distinguish verges from ‘natural’ corridors and may hamper a
successful linkage between technical and ecological infrastructure (Mader 1978b; Mader et
al., 1990). Habitat conditions (particularly microclimatic and hydrological) vary considerably
within verges and infrastructure networks have intersections where animals face a higher risk
of traffic mortality than if they had travelled along another natural corridor in the landscape
(Madsen et al., 1998; Huijser et al., 1998; 1999).
Also, the predation pressure within verges may be increased compared to the surrounding
habitat, because carnivores are attracted to traffic casualties as a food source.
Thus, the overall corridor effect is ambiguous. Verges may provide valuable habitats for
wildlife, but primarily for less demanding, generalist species that are tolerant of disturbance
and pollution and are resilient to the increased mortality risk associated with the traffic.
Verges can support wildlife movements, but also serve as a source of ‘unwanted’ or alien
species spreading into the surrounding habitats. The overall corridor function of infrastructure
verges will most likely be influenced by the ecological contrast between the
vegetation/structure in the corridor and the surrounding habitat (Figure 3.6). To better
understand this complexity and give practical advice to road planners, more empirical studies
Figure 3.6 - The corridor function differs with respect to the surrounding landscape: A)
Open, agricultural landscapes: richly vegetated verges can provide a valuable habitat
for wildlife and facilitate movement. B) Forested landscapes: open and grassy verges
introduce new edges and can increase the barrier effect on forest interior species. C)
Verges may also serve as sources of species spreading into new habitats or re-colonising
vacant areas. (Modified from Mader, 1987b)
3.5. FAUNA CASUALTIES
3.5.1. The phenomenon
Road mortality is probably the most widely acknowledged effect of traffic on animals, as
carcasses are a common sight along trafficked roads (Figure 3.7). The number of casualties
appears to be constantly growing as traffic increases and infrastructure expands (Stoner 1925;
Trombulak and Frissell, 2000). Forman and Alexander (1998) concluded that ‘sometime
during the last three decades, roads with vehicles probably overtook hunting as the leading
direct human cause of vertebrate mortality on land’. The scale of the problem is illustrated by
the numbers of known road kills (see Section 5.3 and Table 5.7).
Figure 3.7 - Wildlife casualties – a common view along roads and railways. (Photos by
H. De Vries and C. Rosell)
The quantity of road kills is such that collisions between vehicles and wildlife comprise a
growing problem not only for species conservation and game management, but also for traffic
safety, and the private and public economy (Harris and Gallagher, 1989; Hartwig, 1993;
Romin and Bissonette, 1996; Putman, 1997). In most countries, traffic safety is the driving
force behind mitigation efforts against fauna casualties (see Chapter 8) and although human
fatalities are a relatively rare outcome in wildlife-vehicle collisions, the number of injured
people and the total economic costs, including damage to vehicles, can be substantial. Police
records in Europe (excluding Russia) suggest more than half a million ungulate-vehicle
collisions per year, causing a minimum of 300 human fatalities, 30,000 injuries, and a
material damage of more than 1 billion Euro (Groot Bruinderink and Hazebroek, 1996). From
an animal welfare point of view, there is also concern about road casualties: many animals
that are hit by vehicles are not immediately killed, but die later from injuries or shock.
Hunters complain about the increasing work to hunt down injured game (Swedish Hunters
Association, pers. comm.) and train drivers in northern Sweden complain about the unpleasant
experience of colliding with groups of reindeer and moose (Åhren and Larsson, 1999).
3.5.2. Ecological significance of wildlife-traffic collisions
Evaluating the ecological importance of road mortality for a species involves considering the
species’ population size and recruitment rate. Large numbers of casualties of one species may
not necessarily imply a threat to the survival of that species, but rather indicate that it is
abundant and widespread. For many common wildlife species, such as rodents, rabbits, foxes,
sparrows, or blackbirds, traffic mortality is generally considered insignificant, accounting
only for a small portion (less than 5%) of the total mortality (Haugen, 1944; Bergmann, 1974;
Schmidley and Wilkins, 1977; Bennett, 1991; Rodts et al., 1998; see also Table 5.7). Even for
red deer (Cervus elaphus) , roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) or wild boar (Sus scrofa), traffic
mortality generally accounts for less than 5% of the annual spring populations in Europe
(Groot Bruinderink and Hazebroek, 1996). In contrast to natural predation, traffic mortality is
non-compensatory, and the kill rate is independent of density. This implies that traffic will kill
a constant proportion of a population and therefore affect rare species most significantly. In
general, species that occur in small isolated populations, and those which require large
extensive areas for their home ranges, or exert long migratory movements, are especially
sensitive to road mortality. Indeed, for many endangered or rare species around the world,
traffic is considered as one of the most important sources of mortality (Harris and Gallagher,
3.5.3. Factors that influence the occurrence of wildlife-traffic collisions
There are various factors that determine the risk of animal-vehicle collisions (Figure 3.8). The
numbers of collisions generally increase with traffic intensity and animal activity and density.
Temporal variations in traffic kills can be linked to biological factors which determine the
species’ activity e.g. the daily rhythm of foraging and resting, seasons for mating and
breeding, dispersal of young, or seasonal migration between winter and summer habitats (Van
Gelder, 1973; Bergmann, 1974; Göransson et al., 1978; Aaris-Sorensen, 1995; Groot
Bruinderink and Hazebroek, 1996). Changes in temperature, rainfall or snow cover can also
influence the occurrence and timing of accidents (Jaren et al., 1991; Belant, 1995; Gundersen
and Andreassen, 1998).
Figure 3.8 - Factors influencing the number of wildlife traffic accidents.
Roadkills seem to increase with traffic intensity to an optimum point, after which they level
off. It seems that very high traffic volumes, noise and vehicle movements have the effect of
deterring many animals, hence mortality rates do not increase further with higher traffic flows
(Oxley et al., 1974; Berthoud, 1987; Van der Zee et al., 1992; Clarke et al., 1998; see Figure
3.10). The occurrence of mitigation measures such as fences or passages and the programme
of verge management clearly affects the local risk of accidents. The clearance of
infrastructure verges of deciduous vegetation, for instance, has proven to reduce the number
of moose (Alces alces) casualties in Scandinavia by between 20% and 50% (Lavsund and
Sandegren, 1991; Jaren et al., 1991). On the other hand, where verges provide attractive
resources to wildlife, the risk of vehicle-animal collisions is likely to be increased (Feldhamer
et al., 1986; Steiof, 1996; Groot Bruinderink and Hazebroek, 1996).
Spatial pattern in road kills clearly depends on animal population density and biology, habitat
distribution and landscape structure, but also on road and traffic characteristics (Puglisi et al.,
1974’; Ashley and Robinson, 1996, Finder et al., 1999). In species with limited mobility and
specific habitat requirements, such as many amphibians, it can be relatively simple to identify
potential conflict areas. Most amphibian casualties occur during a short period in spring,
when the animals migrate to and from their breeding ponds and are concentrated where roads
dissect the migration routes (van Gelder, 1973). Roads that pass close to breeding ponds,
wetlands and the animals’ foraging habitats, are likely to cause a much greater kill rate than
roads outside the species’ migratory range i.e. about 1 km (see Vos and Chardon, 1998;
Ashley and Robinson, 1996).
Other species, especially larger mammals, depend less on specific habitat types and utilise the
landscape at a broader scale, which makes it more difficult to locate possible collision
‘hotspots’ (Madsen et al., 1998). However, where favourable habitat patches coincide with
infrastructure, or where roads intersect other linear structures in the landscape (e.g.
hedgerows, watercourses, and other (minor) roads and railways), the risk of collisions is
usually increased (Puglisi et al., 1974; Feldhamer et al., 1986; Kofler and Schulz, 1987;
Putman, 1997; Gundersen et al., 1998; Lode, 2000). For example, collisions with white-tailed
deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in Illinois are associated with intersections between roads and
riparian corridors, and public recreational land (Finder et al., 1999). Traffic casualties
amongst otters (Lutra lutra) are most likely to occur where roads cross over watercourses
(Philcox et al., 1999). Road-killed hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) in The Netherlands are
often found where roads intersect with railways (Huijser et al., 1998). Also foxes and roe deer
(Capreolus capreolus) in Denmark are more often found near intersections than elsewhere
along roads (Madsen et al., 1998).
The different factors influencing wildlife-traffic accidents must be fully understood before
any local need for mitigation can be evaluated, and effective measures designed and
constructed (Romin and Bissonette, 1996; Putman, 1997). GIS-based analysis of traffic kills
and wildlife movements, in relation to roads and landscape features, may provide the
necessary insight to enable predictive models for impact assessment and the localisation of
mitigation measures to be developed and applied (Gundersen et al., 1998; Finder et al., 1999;
see also Section 6.4).
3.6. BARRIER EFFECT
3.6.1. The components of the barrier effect
Of all the primary effects of infrastructure, the barrier effect contributes most to the overall
fragmentation of habitat (Reck and Kaule, 1993; Forman and Alexander, 1998). Infrastructure
barriers disrupt natural processes including plant dispersal and animal movements (Forman et
al., 1997). The barrier effect on wildlife results from a combination of disturbance and
avoidance effects (e.g. traffic noise, vehicle movement, pollution, and human activity),
physical hindrances, and traffic mortality that all reduce the number of movements across the
infrastructure (Figure 3.9). The infrastructure surface, gutter, ditches, fences, and
embankments may all present physical barriers that animals cannot pass. The clearance of the
infrastructure corridor and the open verge character creates habitat conditions that are
unsuitable or hostile to many smaller species (see Section 3.3.1). Most infrastructure barriers
do not completely block animal movements, but reduce the number of crossings significantly
(Merriam et al., 1989). The fundamental question is thus: how many successful crossings are
needed to maintain habitat connectivity?
Figure 3.9 - The barrier effect of a road or railway results from a combination of
disturbance/deterrent effects, mortality and physical hindrances. Depending on the
species, the number of successful crossings is but a fraction of the number of attempted
movements. Some species may not experience any physical or behavioural barrier,
whereas others may not try to even approach the road corridor. To effectively mitigate
the barrier effect, the relative importance of the inhibiting factors on individual species
must be established.
The barrier effect is a non-linear function of traffic intensity, which along with vehicle speed
appear to have the strongest influence on the barrier effect. Infrastructure width, verge
characteristics, the animals’ behaviour and its sensitivity to habitat disturbances are also key
factors (Figure 3.10). With increasing traffic density and higher vehicle speed, mortality rates
usually increase until the deterrent effect of the traffic prevents more animals from getting
killed (Oxley et al., 1974; Berthoud, 1987; Kuhn, 1987; Van der Zee et al. 1992; Clarke et al.
1998). Exactly when this threshold in traffic density occurs is yet to be established but Müller
and Berthoud (1997) propose five categories of infrastructure/traffic intensity with respect to
the barrier impact on wildlife:
Local access and service roads with very light traffic: can serve as partial filters to
wildlife movements; may have a limited barrier impact on invertebrates and
eventually deter small mammals from crossing the open space; larger wildlife may
benefit from these roads as corridors or conduits.
Railways and minor public roads with traffic below 1,000 vehicles per day: may cause
incidental traffic mortality and exert a stronger barrier/avoidance effect on small
species, but crossing movements still occur frequently.
Intermediate link roads with up to 5,000 vehicles per day: may already represent a
serious barrier to certain species; traffic noise and vehicle movement are likely to have
a major deterrent effect on small mammals and some larger mammals meaning the
increase in the overall barrier impact is not proportional to the increase in traffic
Arterial roads with heavy traffic between 5,000 and 10,000 vehicles per day: represent
a significant barrier to many terrestrial species, but due to the strong repellence effect
of the traffic, the number of roadkills remains relatively constant over time; roadkills
and traffic safety are two major issues in this category.
Motorways and highways with traffic above 10,000 vehicles per day: impose an
impermeable barrier to almost all wildlife species; dense traffic deters most species
from approaching the road and kills those that still attempt to cross.
Figure 3.10 - Theoretical model illustrating the relationship between traffic intensity
and the barrier effect: with increasing traffic, the number of roadkills increases in a
linear fashion until noise and vehicle movements repel more animals from attempting to
cross the road; at very high traffic volumes, the total mortality rate could decrease until
the barrier effect reaches 100% i.e. preventing all crossings. (Redrawn from Müller and
3.6.2. Evidence from field studies
Transportation infrastructure inhibits the movement of practically all terrestrial animals, and
many aquatic species: the significance of the barrier effect varies between species. Many
invertebrates, for instance, respond significantly to differences in microclimate, substrate and
the extent of openness between road surface and road verges: high temperatures, high light
intensity and lack of shelter on the surface of paved roads have been seen to repel Lycosid
spiders and Carabid beetles (Mader 1988; Mader et al., 1990). Land snails may dry out or get
run over while attempting to cross over a paved road (Baur and Baur, 1990). Also
amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals may be sensitive to the openness of the road
corridor, the road surface and traffic intensity (Joule and Cameron, 1974; Kozel and Fleharty,
1979; Mader and Pauritsch, 1981; Swihart and Slade, 1984; Merriam et al., 1989; Clark et al.,
2001). Even birds can be reluctant to cross over wide and heavily trafficked roads (Van der
Zande et al., 1980). Semi-aquatic animals and migrating fish moving along watercourses are
often be inhibited by bridges or culverts that are too narrow (Warren and Pardew, 1998).
Most empirical evidence for the barrier effect derives from capture-recapture experiments on
small mammals. For example, Mader (1984) observed that a 6 m wide road with 250
vehicles/hour completely inhibited the movement of 121 marked yellow-necked mice
(Apodemus flavicollis) and bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus) (see Figure 3.11). Similarly,
Richardson et al. (1997) found that mice and voles were reluctant to cross paved roads wider
than 20-25 m although they did move along the road verge. Oxley et al. (1974) documented
that white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) would not cross over highway corridors wider
than 30 m although they frequently crossed over smaller and only lightly trafficked forest
Figure 3.11 - Mobility diagram illustrating animal movements along and across a
railway and road, based on capture-recapture data of: (left) carabid beetles (redrawn
from Mader et al., 1990); and (right) small mammals. (Redrawn from Mader, 1984)
For larger animals, roads and railways do not represent a physical barrier, unless they are
fenced or their traffic intensity is too high. Most mammals, however, are sensitive to
disturbance by humans and scent, noise and vehicle movement may deter animals from
approaching the infrastructure corridor. For example, Klein (1971) and Curatolo and Murphy
(1986) observed a strong avoidance of roads by feral reindeer (but not by domestic reindeer)
and Rost and Bailey (1979) reported that mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and elk (Cervus
canadensis) avoided habitats closer than around 100 m to trafficked roads.
However, to what extent this avoidance effect reduces the number of successful or attempted
movements across roads is not clear. More data is required on the actual movements (spatial
and temporal) of larger mammals in relation to infrastructure in order to judge the inhibitory
effect of roads and traffic.
3.6.3. Consequences at a population level
When do infrastructure barriers really become a problem for wildlife conservation? How
much permeability is needed to maintain sufficient habitat connectivity? How large a barrier
effect can be tolerated by individual species and populations? To answer these questions, the
consequences at population level must be considered. Depending on the number of successful
crossings relative to the size of the population, the barrier effect can be significant to
population dynamics, demographic or genetic properties. If the species does not experience a
significant barrier effect and individuals still move frequently across the road, the dissected
populations will continue to function as one unit. If the exchange of individuals is reduced but
not completely inhibited, the populations may diverge in demographic characters, e.g. in
terms of density, sex ratio, recruitment and mortality rate. Also genetic differences may
emerge, as the chance for mating with individuals from the other side of the infrastructure
barrier may be reduced. These changes may not necessarily pose a threat to the dissected
populations; except for sink populations dependent on steady immigration for continued
survival (see Section 2.3). If the barrier effect is even stronger, the risk of inbreeding effects
and local extinctions will increase rapidly.
Evidence of the effect on population genetics derives from studies on rodents and amphibians.
For example, Reh and Seitz (1990) observed effects of inbreeding, in the form of reduced
genetic diversity, in small populations of the common frog (Rana temporaria) that were
isolated by roads over many years. Merriam et al. (1989) found indications of genetic
divergence in small-mammal populations separated by minor roads. However, populations
dissected by one single barrier may not automatically suffer from inbreeding depression,
unless they are critically small or do not have contact with other more distant populations in
the landscape. To evaluate the consequences of a new infrastructure barrier, the combined
isolation effects of all the existing surrounding infrastructure and other natural and artificial
barriers must be considered. The denser the infrastructure network and the more intense its
traffic, the more likely it will cause significant isolation of local populations. By definition,
small isolated populations (particularly of rare and endemic species) are more sensitive to
barrier effects and isolation than populations of abundant and widespread species. Species
with large area requirements and wide individual home ranges will more frequently need to
cross over road barriers than smaller and less mobile species.
It is the combination of population size, mobility, and the individuals’ area requirements that
determines a species’ sensitivity to the barrier impact of infrastructure (Verkaar and Bekker,
1991). A careful choice between alternative routes for new infrastructure may thus help to
prevent the dissection of local populations of small species, but cannot reduce the barrier
effect for larger, wide roaming species. In most cases, technical/physical measures, such as
fauna passages or ecoducts, will be required to mitigate against barrier impacts and re-
establish habitat connectivity across the infrastructure.
The previous discussions show that the total impact of roads and railways on wildlife cannot
be evaluated without considering a broader landscape context. Roads and railways are always
part of a wider network, where synergetic effects with other infrastructure links occur, which
cause additional habitat loss and isolation. Studies on the cumulative effects of fragmentation
caused by transportation infrastructure must address larger areas and cover longer time
periods than studies that simply address the primary effects of a single road or railway link.
Evaluating the degree of fragmentation due to infrastructure is not a simple task. The
significance of fragmentation is highly species-specific and dependent on the amplitude of
barrier and disturbance effects, the diversity and juxtaposition of habitats within the
landscape, and the size of the unfragmented areas between infrastructure links (i.e. the density
of infrastructure). Forman et al. (1997) suggested the use of infrastructure density as a simple
but straightforward measure of fragmentation (Figure 3.12). This measure could be improved
by adding information on traffic density, speed, infrastructure width and design.
Figure 3.12 - Infrastructure causes a loss and degradation of habitat due to disturbance
effects (grey corridors) and isolation. With increasing infrastructure density, areas of
undisturbed habitat (white) are reduced in size and become inaccessible. Remnant
fragments of suitable habitat may eventually become too small and isolated to prevent
local populations from going extinct. The critical threshold in road density is species-
specific, but will also depend on landscape and infrastructure characteristics.
Several studies have described critical thresholds in road density for the occurrence of
wildlife species in the landscape. For example, Mladenoff et al. (1999) observed that wolves
and mountain lions did not sustain viable populations in regions of Minnesota, USA with road
densities above 0.6 km/km2 (Thiel, 1985; Van Dyke et al., 1986). Also, the presence of other
large mammals in the USA such as elk, moose and grizzly bear, appears to be negatively
influenced as road densities increase (Holbrook and Vaughan, 1985; Forman et al., 1997).
The observed fragmentation effect may however not be associated with the direct impact of
infrastructure and traffic, but rather with the increased access to wildlife areas that roads in
particular (especially forest roads) offer hunters and poachers (Holbrook and Vaughan, 1985;
Gratson and Whitman, 2000). In Europe, areas remote from roads or with only low road
density, low traffic volumes, and a high proportion of natural vegetation, are considered as
core areas in the ecological network (e.g. Jongman, 1994; Bennett, 1997). Determining how
much undeveloped habitat is needed and how large the infrastructure-free landscape
fragments need to be to ensure a given species survival is a task for future research. Clearly,
the best option to counteract the fragmentation process is the reclamation of nature areas for
wildlife through the removal of roads, or by permanent or temporary road closure. Road
closure helps to reduce motorised access to wildlife habitat and enlarges undisturbed core
areas, yet the physical barrier and its edge effects still remain. The physical removal of roads
is the ultimate solution. In some countries, such as on federal land in the USA, attempts are
being made to integrate road removal as a part of the Grizzly Bear Conservation Program (see
Evink et al., 1999; Wildlands CPR, 2001). To ensure the survival of grizzlies in the core areas
of their distribution, it has been suggested to establish road-free habitats of at least 70% of the
size of an average female home range. In regions designated for grizzly bear conservation and
where road densities are higher than that required for the secure habitats, it is recommended
that roads should consequently be removed.
In Europe, temporary closure of (local) roads is an action primarily applied in order to
maximise the protection of seasonally migrating amphibians (Dehlinger, 1994). Applying
speed limits on local roads can also offer a simple tool for changing traffic flows and reducing
disturbance and mortality impacts in wildlife areas. In situations where roads cannot be
removed or closed, or traffic reduced, technical mitigation measures such as fauna passages
and ecoducts may be necessary to minimise fragmentation and reconnect wildlife habitats
(e.g. DWW, 1995).
In this chapter some of the major literature on the ecological effects of infrastructure has been
reviewed. There is a growing concern about habitat fragmentation caused by roads and
railways all around the world. The increasing demand for avoidance and mitigation makes it
clear that there is still much to be understood before the cumulative potential impacts can be
assessed in an efficient and practical way. A considerable amount of research has been carried
out already, yet many of the studies are descriptive, dealing with problems of individual roads
or railways, but without considering the more strategic issues integral in the planning of
ecologically friendly infrastructure.
How much habitat is actually lost due to construction and disturbance effects of
infrastructure? How wide is the impact zone along roads and how does the width of this zone
change with traffic intensity and type of surrounding habitat? How can transportation
infrastructure be integrated into the ‘ecological’ infrastructure in the landscape without
causing an increase in the risk of animal-vehicle collisions? Where and when are mitigation
measures against road wildlife mortality necessary or affordable? How much infrastructure is
too much in areas designated for wildlife? What are the ecological thresholds that must not be
surpassed and how can the best use be made of the potential in a road or railway project to
improve the current situation?
Finding answers to these questions is a challenge to landscape ecologists, biologists and civil
engineers alike (Forman, 1998; Cuperus et al., 1999). To develop effective guidelines and
tools for the planning of infrastructure, research needs to be focussed on ecological processes
and patterns, using experiments and simulation models to identify critical impact thresholds.
Empirical studies are necessary to provide the basic data that will help to define evaluation
criteria and indices. Remotely sensed landscape data, GIS-techniques, and simulation models
offer promising tools for future large-scale research (see Section 6.4), but they must rely on
empirical field studies at local scales. Clearly, a better understanding of the large-scale long-
term impact of fragmentation on the landscape is required, yet the solution to the problems
will more likely be found at a local scale. Richard T.T. Forman, a pioneer in landscape and
road ecology at Harvard University, Massachusetts, put it simply: We must learn to ‘think
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