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18.4: Smarter Infrastructure

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    Infrastructure development poses a significant and escalating challenge to biodiversity conservation efforts. Dams and fences impede wildlife dispersal and migrations, power distribution lines and high-rise buildings pose a collision hazard to birds and bats (Rushworth et al., 2014; Frick et al., 2017), and city expansions compete with biodiversity for space. Expanding road networks are particularly harmful because roads open new areas for deforestation, urban sprawl, agricultural expansion, and unsustainable hunting (Laurence et al., 2006; Benítez-López et al., 2017).

    Conservation versus development is not a zero-sum game. Rather, biodiversity conservation improves our own well-being by enabling us to obtain the necessary resources to support our livelihoods and our industries’ profit margins. One way to maintain these benefits while also promoting economic development is to focus on improving existing infrastructure in disturbed and populated areas, rather than creating new developments that bisect marginal lands, protected areas, and wilderness areas. Developing marginal lands and wildernesses seldom makes sense, not only because these areas are sparsely populated, but also because many are low-nutrient environments that would never support sustainable agriculture (Balmford et al., 2001; Laurance et al., 2015).

    There are also opportunities to make existing infrastructure more wildlife friendly. Of interest is the maintenance of connectivity despite the presences of potential barriers such as fences and roads. For example, strategically placed fence-gaps and exclusionary fences, as well as tunnels placed under fences can be used to facilitate continued dispersal of selected species in fenced areas (Dupuis-Desormeaux et al., 2018). Similarly, warning signs (Figure 18.4.1), overpasses (e.g. Ford et al., 2009) and underpasses (e.g. Dell’Amore 2012) along paved roads can keep motorists safe from collisions with large animals. One study from Canada found that strategically placed wildlife crossings could reduce vehicle collisions involving large mammals by 96% (Ford et al., 2009), also reducing the chance of human injuries and damage to vehicles (Huijser et al., 2009). While this field of research is still relatively new, much headway has been made in making wildlife crossings cost-effective ( and determining their optimal placement (Bastille-Rousseau et al. 2018).

    Figure 18.4.1: A toad tunnel in Northern Germany to allow the European toad, Bufo bufo, to safely cross under a road.
    Nishiotaki_Dam_fish_ladder (1).jpg
    A fish ladder on Japan's Nishiotaki Dam. Fish ladders can provide migrating fish such as salmon with a way to bypass the dam.
    moose crssing newfoundland Canada.jpg
    Signs warning motorists to watch out for wildlife can be effective. This sign warns of moose on the highway in Newfoundland, CA. Photo by DragonWoman, Flickr, CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

    This page titled 18.4: Smarter Infrastructure is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John W. Wilson & Richard B. Primack (Open Book Publishers) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.