Nature Trails Detrimental to Urban Forests:

Being close to nature has its downside that is detrimental to the environment, according to a latest study by scientists from Curtin University and Griffith University.

Remnant urban forests are popular sites for recreational activities like hiking, biking, and motorised recreation. However, the study said this could result in the “formation of extensive trail networks, fragmenting vegetation into patches separated by modified edge effects and ultimately contributing to the degradation of the ecosystem as a whole”.

The study used a Geographic Information System (GIS) approach to assess the extent and diversity of trail-based fragmentation across 17 remnants of endangered urban forest in southeast Queensland, Australia (a total area of 829 hectares).

The study mapped out 14 different trail types totaling 46.1km of informal biking and hiking. More than 47 hectares or 5.7 percent of forest have been lost to trails and their edge effect, nearly equal to the area recently cleared for urban development.

“The degree of fragmentation in some remnants was in the same order of magnitude as found for some of the most popular nature-based recreation sites in the world. In localised areas, the fragmentation was particularly severe as a result of wide trails used by motorised recreation, but these trails were generally uncommon across the landscape (five percent). Spatial regression revealed that the number of access points per remnant was positively correlated with the degree of fragmentation,” the study said.

An article by Science Network Western Australia said experts from both universities and co-authors, Mark Ballantyne, Dr Ori Gudes and Professor Catherine Pickering, found these forest area trails result in changes to soil microbiology, compaction, erosion, the introduction of weeds and pathogens and wildlife disturbance.

“[All trail types] have an environmental impact. Each one has its own communities of animals and plants that rely on that area to live in. However, overall I fell the largest loss would be stress as they have a very limited trunk area and a large canopy, so for every tiny bit of trunk removed a large canopy [is also removed] so they’re not proportional,” Ballantyne told Science Network.

He added that the lack of planning plus the informal trails coming from tourists and park-goers leads to “networks of damaging trails that need to be structured and maintained for effectiveness”.

“We encourage more landscape-scale research into trail-based fragmentation due to its capacity to impact extensive areas of endangered ecosystems. Management should seek to minimise the creation of informal trails by hardening popular routes, instigating stakeholder collaboration and centralising visitor flow,” the study said.

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