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Do roads drive forest plant invasions?

Photo of Dry Land cotton grows on a farm in Navasota, TX. Researchers found that land use within ‘road effect zones’ is an important predictor of forest plant invasions.

Dry Land cotton grows on a farm in Navasota, TX. Researchers found that land use within ‘road effect zones’ is an important predictor of forest plant invasions. Snapshot : Roads provide a means for moving people and products, but they can also allow hitchhiking organisms to spread. Some exotic invasive plants thrive on the disturbance created by road construction that displaces native plants, but researchers found that the presence of a road may be less important than the presence of farms and other human activities nearby. These research findings were awarded an“editors’ choice” award from the journal Diversity and Distributions in March 2018.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Riitters, Kurt 
Research Location : Eastern United States
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2018
Highlight ID : 1480

Summary

While there is little doubt that roads are linked to forest plant invasions at local scales, effective resource conservation at regional scales requires an understanding of other factors linked to both roads and invasions across the larger landscape.Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center researchers and partners developed a series of models that allowed them to see the incremental influences of agriculture and development, forest fragmentation, local site conditions, and regional ecosystem characteristics in comparison to road proximity effects in eastern U.S. forest plant invasions. As reported in the journal Diversity and Distributions, regional ecosystem characteristics best explain the odds of invasion. The next best predictors of invasion were land use, site productivity, forest fragmentation, and distance from a road, respectively. Because roads and human activities surrounding them are so pervasive in the East, land managers should be thinking of ‘human impact zones’ instead of just ‘road effect zones’ when evaluating the risk of forest plant invasions. The context of the road is key.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Christopher Oswalt, SRS
  •  and Qinfeng Guo, SRS
  • Basil Iannone, University of Florida
  • Kevin Potter, North Carolina State University
  • Songlin Fei, Purdue University?