The construction of vehicular roads likely affects the distribution of natural resources. Although the effects of roads on different ecosystem aspects have been extensively studied, studies in arid and, particularly, in hyper-arid ecosystems are scarce. In drylands, where water is the main limiting factor, the effect of roads on the redistribution of water may have strong subsequent effects on the ecosystem, especially when roads cross natural water flow paths. To fill this knowledge gap, we studied the effects of a road that runs across a slope on the distribution of plants and animals in a hyper-arid environment. Changes in shrub cover, below and above the road, were quantified by remote sensing and image classification, while plant-associated arthropods were vacuum-sampled from shrub canopies and from open (inter-shrub) areas. We found that the spatial distribution of shrubs, a vital resource facilitating many other organisms, was affected by the road, with an increase in the shrub cover immediately above the road and a decrease below it. Arthropod abundance generally followed shrub cover, but the exact pattern depended on the specific group sampled. While some arthropod groups (e.g., aphids, parasitic wasps and barklice) thrived under the disturbed conditions above the road, other arthropod groups (e.g., mites and true bugs) were less abundant in the disturbed patches. Our results highlight the strong effects of human-made structures on the distribution of flora and fauna in arid ecosystems.
- community ecology
- road zone