Road-building can lead to significant deleterious impacts on biodiversity, varying from direct road-kill mortality and direct habitat loss associated with road construction, to more subtle indirect impacts from edge effects and fragmentation. However, little work has been done to evaluate the specific effects of road networks and biodiversity loss beyond the more generalized effects of habitat loss.

This study compares forest bird species richness and composition in the municipalities of Santarém and Belterra in Pará state, eastern Brazilian Amazon, with a road network metric called “roadless volume” (RV) at the scale of small hydrological catchments (averaging 3721 ha). The authors find a significant positive relationship between RV and both forest bird richness and the average number of unique species (species represented by a single record) recorded at each site. Forest bird community composition was also significantly affected by RV.

Moreover, there was no significant correlation between RV and forest cover, suggesting that road networks may impact biodiversity independently of changes in forest cover. However, variance partitioning analysis indicated that RV has partially independent and therefore additive effects, suggesting that RV and forest cover are best used in a complementary manner to investigate changes in biodiversity.

Road impacts on avian species richness and composition independent of habitat loss may result from road-dependent habitat disturbance and fragmentation effects that are not captured by total percentage habitat cover, such as selective logging, fire, hunting, traffic disturbance, edge effects and road-induced fragmentation.

Read the article (external link to journal)