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A global strategy for road building.

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      Abstract

      The number and extent of roads will expand dramatically this century. Globally, at least 25 million kilometres of new roads are anticipated by 2050; a 60% increase in the total length of roads over that in 2010. Nine-tenths of all road construction is expected to occur in developing nations, including many regions that sustain exceptional biodiversity and vital ecosystem services. Roads penetrating into wilderness or frontier areas are a major proximate driver of habitat loss and fragmentation, wildfires, overhunting and other environmental degradation, often with irreversible impacts on ecosystems. Unfortunately, much road proliferation is chaotic or poorly planned, and the rate of expansion is so great that it often overwhelms the capacity of environmental planners and managers. Here we present a global scheme for prioritizing road building. This large-scale zoning plan seeks to limit the environmental costs of road expansion while maximizing its benefits for human development, by helping to increase agricultural production, which is an urgent priority given that global food demand could double by mid-century. Our analysis identifies areas with high environmental values where future road building should be avoided if possible, areas where strategic road improvements could promote agricultural development with relatively modest environmental costs, and 'conflict areas' where road building could have sizeable benefits for agriculture but with serious environmental damage. Our plan provides a template for proactively zoning and prioritizing roads during the most explosive era of road expansion in human history.

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      Most cited references 26

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      Agricultural sustainability and intensive production practices.

      A doubling in global food demand projected for the next 50 years poses huge challenges for the sustainability both of food production and of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and the services they provide to society. Agriculturalists are the principal managers of global usable lands and will shape, perhaps irreversibly, the surface of the Earth in the coming decades. New incentives and policies for ensuring the sustainability of agriculture and ecosystem services will be crucial if we are to meet the demands of improving yields without compromising environmental integrity or public health.
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        Forecasting agriculturally driven global environmental change.

        During the next 50 years, which is likely to be the final period of rapid agricultural expansion, demand for food by a wealthier and 50% larger global population will be a major driver of global environmental change. Should past dependences of the global environmental impacts of agriculture on human population and consumption continue, 10(9) hectares of natural ecosystems would be converted to agriculture by 2050. This would be accompanied by 2.4- to 2.7-fold increases in nitrogen- and phosphorus-driven eutrophication of terrestrial, freshwater, and near-shore marine ecosystems, and comparable increases in pesticide use. This eutrophication and habitat destruction would cause unprecedented ecosystem simplification, loss of ecosystem services, and species extinctions. Significant scientific advances and regulatory, technological, and policy changes are needed to control the environmental impacts of agricultural expansion.
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          Closing yield gaps through nutrient and water management.

          In the coming decades, a crucial challenge for humanity will be meeting future food demands without undermining further the integrity of the Earth's environmental systems. Agricultural systems are already major forces of global environmental degradation, but population growth and increasing consumption of calorie- and meat-intensive diets are expected to roughly double human food demand by 2050 (ref. 3). Responding to these pressures, there is increasing focus on 'sustainable intensification' as a means to increase yields on underperforming landscapes while simultaneously decreasing the environmental impacts of agricultural systems. However, it is unclear what such efforts might entail for the future of global agricultural landscapes. Here we present a global-scale assessment of intensification prospects from closing 'yield gaps' (differences between observed yields and those attainable in a given region), the spatial patterns of agricultural management practices and yield limitation, and the management changes that may be necessary to achieve increased yields. We find that global yield variability is heavily controlled by fertilizer use, irrigation and climate. Large production increases (45% to 70% for most crops) are possible from closing yield gaps to 100% of attainable yields, and the changes to management practices that are needed to close yield gaps vary considerably by region and current intensity. Furthermore, we find that there are large opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture by eliminating nutrient overuse, while still allowing an approximately 30% increase in production of major cereals (maize, wheat and rice). Meeting the food security and sustainability challenges of the coming decades is possible, but will require considerable changes in nutrient and water management.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ] Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, and College of Marine and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland 4878, Australia.
            [2 ] 1] Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, and College of Marine and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland 4878, Australia [2] Kenyir Research Institute, Universiti Malaya Terengganu, 21030 Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia.
            [3 ] Institute on the Environment, and Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA.
            [4 ] Center for the Environment, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.
            [5 ] Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK.
            [6 ] Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK.
            [7 ] Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, and School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia.
            [8 ] Conservation Strategy Fund, 663-2300 Curridabat, San José, Costa Rica.
            Journal
            Nature
            Nature
            Springer Nature
            1476-4687
            0028-0836
            Sep 11 2014
            : 513
            : 7517
            25162528 nature13717 10.1038/nature13717

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