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A global strategy for road building

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 08 October 2014

Abstract

The number and extent of roads will expand dramatically this century1. Globally, at least 25 million kilometres of new roads are anticipated by 2050; a 60% increase in the total length of roads over that in 2010. Nine-tenths of all road construction is expected to occur in developing nations1, including many regions that sustain exceptional biodiversity and vital ecosystem services. Roads penetrating into wilderness or frontier areas are a major proximate driver of habitat loss and fragmentation, wildfires, overhunting and other environmental degradation, often with irreversible impacts on ecosystems2,3,4,5. Unfortunately, much road proliferation is chaotic or poorly planned3,4,6, and the rate of expansion is so great that it often overwhelms the capacity of environmental planners and managers2,3,4,5,6,7. Here we present a global scheme for prioritizing road building. This large-scale zoning plan seeks to limit the environmental costs of road expansion while maximizing its benefits for human development, by helping to increase agricultural production, which is an urgent priority given that global food demand could double by mid-century8,9. Our analysis identifies areas with high environmental values where future road building should be avoided if possible, areas where strategic road improvements could promote agricultural development with relatively modest environmental costs, and ‘conflict areas’ where road building could have sizeable benefits for agriculture but with serious environmental damage. Our plan provides a template for proactively zoning and prioritizing roads during the most explosive era of road expansion in human history.

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Figure 1: The distribution of major roads globally.
Figure 2: The environmental-values and road-benefits layers.
Figure 3: A global roadmap.
Figure 4: Mapped roads overlaid onto the roads-benefits layer.

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Acknowledgements

We thank T. Brooks, S. Butchart, J. Geldmann, S. Goosem, C. Mendenhall, N. Pares, S. Pimm, U. Srinivasan, N. Velho, and two anonymous referees for comments and feedback. The Australian Research Council provided support.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

W.F.L. and A.B. initially conceived the study, and W.F.L. coordinated its design, analysis, and manuscript preparation. G.R.C. and S.S. conducted the spatial analyses; C.S.O., N.D.M., O.V., G.R.C., S.S. and B.P. generated or collated key datasets; and M.G., D.P.E., R.V.D.R. and I.B.A. provided ideas and critical feedback.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to William F. Laurance.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Roadmaps for northern South America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Magnified images such as these could be integrated with local-scale data to facilitate actual road planning. Values of the environmental-values and road-benefits layers are each divided into deciles, yielding 100 unique colour combinations. See Supplementary Information for data sources.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

This file contains Supplementary Text, Supplementary Figures 1-18 and Supplementary References. (PDF 2397 kb)

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Laurance, W., Clements, G., Sloan, S. et al. A global strategy for road building. Nature 513, 229–232 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13717

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