Environmental indicators reflective of road design in a forested landscape

Deborah A. Neher, Kristin M. Williams, Sarah Taylor Lovell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Roads cause both chemical and physical disturbance at the time of creation and through the maintenance of the road. However, none have fully considered the extent of above- and below-ground impacts related to roads. Our study seeks to fill this gap with three objectives: (1) quantify differences in the nematode community by road-use intensity, (2) estimate distance of environmental impact of roads using nematode community indices, and (3) relate nematode communities to abiotic soil and aboveground plant communities for a relatively comprehensive environmental assessment of the spatial footprint of roads on the landscape. Soil and plant samples were co-located at six distances from the road edge (shoulder, sideslope, ditch, backslope, 10 m from forest edge, and 50 m from road crown) for each of 10 transects perpendicular to each of three road types (highways, two-lane paved, and gravel). There were differences in all nematode community measures based upon distance as a main effect, correlating with patterns of plant communities. Nematode community index values reflect increased disturbance closer to the road, particularly at the shoulder, with later ecological succession and a shift in the decomposer food web with increased distance from the road and in reference forest sites. In contrast, chemical properties of soil were influenced more by road type and the two-way interaction of road type and topography. Salt concentrations were greatest by two-lane paved roads, while heavy metal concentrations were greatest near highway roads. This study is one of the most comprehensive assessments of environmental impact by roads, providing data for accurate transportation system models. The results suggest that conscious design and management of the forest buffer and intentional inclusion of a ditch as a roadside feature may minimize pollutant movement and protect surrounding landscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01734
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2017


  • Co-correspondence analysis
  • Deicer
  • Impact assessment
  • Nematode community composition
  • Plant community composition
  • Plant-soil interactions
  • Road salt
  • Soil chemistry
  • Transportation models
  • Vermont

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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