Nsf Funds Research into Human Impacts on River Ecosystems

A team of researchers led by Colorado State University will investigate the direct impacts of roads – and the people who travel on them to remote natural areas – on rivers and their ecosystems with a $1.7 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation.  

The project, which will take place in Puerto Rico’s Caribbean National Forest, will look at a case study of how junctions between rivers and roads impact the environment, including sediment changes in the water; migrating wildlife patterns new recreational opportunities; and to the introduction of trash, pollution, camp fires and foot and vehicle traffic.

"People are attracted to areas that are remote and secluded. But we go to these areas without an understanding of how the biodiversity is altered by our presence," said John Loomis, Colorado State University Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics researcher and team leader. "How resilient are these ecosystems? Are they resilient enough to bounce back, or are there irreversible changes? Do we love parts of nature to death?"

The project includes additional interdisciplinary researchers from Colorado State’s civil engineering department and earth resources department, and researchers from the University of Georgia, University of Pennsylvania, Utah State University, the U.S. Forest Service and the University of Puerto Rico.

"Northeastern Puerto Rico is a good natural laboratory because that area is experiencing rapid urbanization, which means an increased road network that modifies the natural landscape and places people closer to natural resources," said Loomis. "We can measure the effects on fish and shellfish harvesting, introduction of non-native plant species and recreational uses and compare their biodiversity and ecosystem to similar areas that are still remote."

The group will conduct multiple field studies to survey stream habitats from undisturbed headwaters in the tropical forest and compare the habitat with urbanized costal areas, model stream habitats and road networks in relation to seasons and events using GPS systems and provide information about research results to resource managers and teachers in Puerto Rico.