The impacts of roads and other infrastructure on mammal and bird populations: A meta-analysis

date: 2010-03-12


Biodiversity is being lost at an increased rate as a result of human activities. One of the major threats to biodiversity is infrastructural development. We used meta-analyses to study the effects of infrastructure proximity on mammal and bird populations. Data were gathered from 49 studies on 234 mammal and bird species. The main response by mammals and birds in the vicinity of infrastructure was either avoidance or a reduced population density. The mean species abundance, relative to non-disturbed distances (MSA), was used as the effect size measure. The impact of infrastructure distance on MSA was studied using meta-analyses. Possible sources of heterogeneity in the results of the meta-analysis were explored with meta-regression.

Mammal and bird population densities declined with their proximity to infrastructure. The effect of infrastructure on bird populations extended over distances up to about 1 km, and for mammal populations up to about 5 km. Mammals and birds seemed to avoid infrastructure in open areas over larger distances compared to forested areas, which could be related to the reduced visibility of the infrastructure in forested areas. We did not find a significant effect of traffic intensity on the MSA of birds. Species varied in their response to infrastructure. Raptors were found to be more abundant in the proximity of infrastructure whereas other bird taxa tended to avoid it. Abundances were affected at variable distances from infrastructure: within a few meters for small-sized mammals and up to several hundred meters for large-sized mammals.

Our findings show the importance of minimizing infrastructure development for wildlife conservation in relatively undisturbed areas. By combining actual species distributions with the effect distance functions we developed, regions sensitive to infrastructure development may be identified. Additionally, the effect distance functions can be used in models in support of decision making on infrastructure planning.