Roads versus flows in the Great Western Woodlands: surface-water insights into linear infrastructure effects

Published: 07-12-2017| Version 2 | DOI: 10.17632/b7xpsmwb4s.2
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These datasets and spatial files are the data underlying the analyses presented in the paper 'Linear infrastructure impacts on landscape hydrology' published in the Journal of Environmental Management in 2018 (Volume 206, pp 446-457). The extent of roads and other forms of linear infrastructure is burgeoning worldwide, but their impacts are inadequately understood and thus poorly mitigated. Previous studies have identified many potential impacts, including alterations to the hydrological functions and soil processes upon which ecosystems depend. However, these impacts have seldom been quantified at a regional level, particularly in arid and semi-arid systems where the gap in knowledge is the greatest, and impacts potentially the most severe. To explore the effects of extensive track, road, and rail networks on surface hydrology at a regional level we assessed over 1000 km of linear infrastructure, including approx. 300 locations where ephemeral streams crossed linear infrastructure, in the largely intact landscapes of Australia’s Great Western Woodlands. We found a high level of association between linear infrastructure and altered surface hydrology, with erosion and pooling 5 and 6 times as likely to occur on-road than off-road on average (1.06 erosional and 0.69 pooling features km-1 on vehicle tracks, compared with 0.22 and 0.12 km-1, off-road, respectively). Erosion severity was greater in the presence of tracks, and 98% of crossings of ephemeral streamlines showed some evidence of impact on water movement (flow impedance (62%); diversion of flows (73%); flow concentration (76%); and/or channel initiation (31%)). Infrastructure type, pastoral land use, culvert presence, soil clay content and erodibility, mean annual rainfall, rainfall erosivity, topography and bare soil cover influenced the frequency and severity of these impacts. We conclude that linear infrastructure frequently affects ephemeral stream flows and intercepts natural overland and near-surface flows, artificially changing site-scale moisture regimes, with some parts of the landscape becoming abnormally wet and other parts becoming water-starved. In addition, linear infrastructure frequently triggers or exacerbates erosion, leading to soil loss and degradation. Where linear infrastructure densities are high, their impacts on ecological processes are likely to be considerable. Linear infrastructure is widespread across much of this relatively intact region, but there remain areas with very low infrastructure densities that need to be protected from further impacts. There is substantial scope for mitigating the impacts of existing and planned infrastructure developments.

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