Can linear transportation infrastructure verges constitute a habitat and/or a corridor for vertebrates in temperate ecosystems? A systematic review
Linear transportation infrastructures (roads, railways, oil and gas pipelines, powerlines and waterways) generate well documented fragmenting effects on species habitats. However, the potential of verges of linear transportation infrastructures (road and railway embankments, strips of grass under power lines or above buried pipelines, or waterway banks) as habitat or corridor for biodiversity, remains controversial. In a context of constant loss of natural habitats, the opportunities of anthropogenic areas for compensating the loss of biodiversity they generated have to be considered. This paper is the first synthesis of evidence addressing this topic for vertebrates (mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles) in temperate ecosystems.
We conducted a systematic literature survey using two online publication databases, three search engines, specialist websites, and by sending a call for literature to subject experts. We successively screened the articles for relevance on titles, abstracts and full texts using criteria detailed in an a priori protocol. We then used six specific questions to categorize the retained studies and to critically appraise them. These questions encompassed the potential of verges as habitats and corridors for vertebrates, and the effects of landscape and management on these potentialities. We critically appraised all studies to assess their risk of bias and created a database of the studies with low and medium risk of bias. We synthesized results for each specific question in narrative syntheses. Finally, studies that met meta-analysis requirements were used for quantitative syntheses.
Our initial searches identified 83,565 documents. After critical appraisal, we retained 119 documents that reported 128 studies. Most studies were conducted in Europe (49%) and in the United States of America (22%), and were about mammals (61%) and birds (20%). Results from the narrative synthesis and meta-analyses converged and revealed that the potential of linear transportation infrastructures verges to constitute a habitat for vertebrate species varies according to the infrastructure and the biological group considered. Especially, highway verges may be a refuge for small mammals but seems detrimental to birds. The potential also varied depending on the landscape considered, with urbanisation being related to lower biodiversity hosted by verges. We found a wide variety of verge management practices with few studies on each practice, which prevented us from drawing general conclusions. Likewise, we found too few studies assessing the corridor potential of verges to be able to fully conclude although this potential seems to exist. We did not find any study assessing the effect of landscape context or management on the role of corridor of verges.
We identified a major knowledge gap regarding the potential of linear transportation infrastructure verges as corridors for vertebrates, and when they exist studies rarely directly measured movements on verges. We thus encourage more research on this topic and the development of protocols that enable direct measures of vertebrate movements. The effect of management practices on the role of habitat of verges also deserves further investigations, and research efforts should be coordinated to focus on one specific practice (e.g. vegetation management).
The role of linear transportation infrastructures (roads, railways, oil and gas pipelines, power lines, rivers and canals) in fragmenting natural habitats has been demonstrated. Yet, the potential of habitat or corridor of their verges (road and railway embankments, strips of grass under power lines or above buried pipelines, or waterway banks) for biodiversity remains controversial. In a context of decreasing natural habitats, the potential of anthropogenic areas for contributing to wildlife conservation should be considered. Moreover, how linear transportation infrastructure verges should be managed in order to favor biodiversity is a crucial question. The present work describes the protocol of the first systematic synthesis of evidence of the potential of linear transportation infrastructure verges as habitat and/or corridor for biodiversity. Outcomes of the study will be useful for helping managers to improve their practices or for prioritizing actions of ecological restoration.
The subject population will include both flora and fauna of the temperate climate, either species or communities. Exposures to linear transportation infrastructure verges, interventions of verge management (mowing, pruning, etc.) and environmental disturbances (pollution, wildfires, etc.) will be included. Both temporal and spatial comparators will be considered. Relevant outcomes will include dispersal, species richness and abundance. The scientific literature on the topic of the review may turn out to be very heterogeneous. Various management types, biodiversity outcomes and study designs might be conceived. If any combination of these is covered by a sufficient number of studies, we will perform a meta-analysis. At the least, we will produce a systematic map and a narrative synthesis.