The road to deforestation: Edge effects in an endemic ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia

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2019-07-01
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PLOS
Abstract

Worldwide, roads are a main driver of deforestation and degradation as they increase forest access along the forest edge. In many tropical areas, unofficial roads go unreported and unrecorded, resulting in inaccurate estimates of intact forested areas. This is the case in central Sumatra, which boasts populations of critically endangered Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatrensis), tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) and other endemic flora and fauna that make the area globally unique. However, maps do not reflect the reality of forest loss in the area. Here we present new maps from 2002 and 2016 of digitized and ground-truthed roads in one of Sumatra's unique lowland tropical protected areas, Tesso Nilo National Park. Using our newly created roads dataset, we examine the distribution of forest with respect to distance to roads. Our data show >2,400 km of roads within the national park in 2016 -nearly a 10-fold increase from roads known in 2002. Most forest (82-99%) within Tesso Nilo falls within 100 m, 500 m, and 1000 m of road edges. Length of road increased 157% and road density increased from 1.06 km/km(2) to 2.63 km/km(2) from 2002-2016. Our results suggest that this endemic ecosystem is facing substantial threat from roads and their associated impacts. Without swift management action, such as road closures and increased enforcements by park management, this ecosystem, and its endemic wildlife, could be lost. It is imperative that protected areas worldwide more rigorously consider roads and road effects on ecosystem fragmentation in their conservation plans.

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