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Goal: Deliver Benefits to the Public Do roads drive forest plant invasions?

Director’s Choice
A country road

Researchers found that land use within ‘road effect zones’ is an important predictor of forest plant invasions. (Courtesy photo by Larry Korhnak, InterfaceSouth)


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.


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.

Principal Investigators
Kurt Riitters, Research Ecologist & Team Leader
Christopher M. Oswalt, Research Forester
Qinfeng Guo, Research Ecologist
4854 - Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center
Strategic Program Area
Invasive Species
Landscape correlates of forest plant invasions: A high-resolution analysis across the eastern United States
CompassLive Story
Do Roads Drive Forest Plant Invasions?
External Partners
Kevin Potter, North Carolina State University
Basil Iannone, University of Florida
Songlin Fei, Purdue University