Studies show that the construction of new roads is one of the key drivers behind the conversion of natural ecosystems. New roads enable access to formerly inaccessible areas and facilitate the flow of people and goods in and out of previously forested areas. These dynamics can be detrimental to rural development and may pave the way for selective logging and the extraction of rare and valuable wildlife from protected areas. Therefore, the construction of new roads is an established driver of forest degradation, deforestation, and illegal hunting.
There is less consideration, however, to the direct effect that new roads have on the habitats and species in the areas they are built, especially when measuring forest cover loss and/or emission statistics. Because the total surface area of a new road is small compared to other types of land transformations, the construction of a new road might not immediately result in an unusual spike in forest cover loss, even if it cuts through a large forested area. It is, therefore, important to consider that the construction of a road essentially divides a habitat into two different regions, which can have wide-ranging impacts on the socio-environmental wellbeing of a forest and its inhabitants.
Landscape ecology metrics in combination with forest cover loss statistics can capture these types of effects quantitatively, which is what we did in a project evaluation in Vietnam in 2020. Our team utilized tools found in the mapme.forest software Package to account for a wide range of indicators and phenomena occurring with new infrastructure development. This approach allows us to automatically download data from the Global Forest Watch (GFW) datasets and analyze our areas of interest in terms of forest cover loss, CO2 emissions, and most importantly for this evaluation - habitat fragmentation.