From Highways to Canals: How Transportation Infrastructure Affects Ecosystems

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  • 0:02 Transportation
  • 0:44 Types of…
  • 1:58 Effects on Ecosystems
  • 3:49 Minimizing the Impact
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

What type of transportation do you use to get around? We use a variety of methods of transportation that all require some form of infrastructure. In this lesson, we will discuss how transportation infrastructure affects the ecosystems.


When you decide to go on a trip across your town, what mode of transportation do you use? Transportation is the act of moving passengers or goods from one location to another. Over the years, our dependence on transportation has changed. In recent years, more and more people have moved to cities, and many cities have expanded in size with the addition of suburbs.

These changes have resulted in an increased dependence on transportation. As people spread out more, they need more methods of transportation to get them to work, school, and fun places. People also travel a great deal and rely on multiple forms of transportation to get to and from their destinations.

Types of Transportation and Infrastructure

We all rely on some form of transportation to travel. Some people might rely on more basic methods of transportation, such as biking. Others may rely on mass transit, such as buses, transit rails, and planes. These forms of transportation carry many people to and from locations. Although not as common as it once was, people still depend on boats to travel. Although there are many forms of transportation, most people rely on cars to get around.

All of these forms of transportation rely on different types of infrastructure to support them. Cars rely on roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, and parking lots. Bikes also rely on some of the same infrastructure used by cars. Boats rely on controlled waterways, such as canals, and natural waterways in order to transport people and goods. Natural waterways normally do not have any infrastructure, but controlled waterways may have locks that control the water. Mass transit forms of transportation rely on a variety of structures, including stations or terminal facilities, rail tracks, airports, runways, and roads.

Its Effects on Ecosystems

We constantly rely on transportation to move us and our resources around, but we do not often think of how the infrastructure that is used to transport items can influence ecosystems. The infrastructure we have created for transportation can have many negative impacts on the environment.

In general, in order to build transportation infrastructure, natural land must be converted for development. This results in a loss of natural land, which animals and plants rely on for survival. Animals are often forced to move to a different location. In addition to removing natural habitats, while building transportation infrastructure, there is also an increased risk of pollution due to the increased abundance of work vehicles and machines.

Although a great deal of damage is done while transportation infrastructure is being built, there are also harmful effects that occur once the infrastructure is in place. Pollution continues once the infrastructure is in use. Whether it be cars, planes, or boats, all vehicles release chemical emissions into the air or chemicals into the water. These vehicles add to the water and air pollution in the area around the infrastructure.

Infrastructure, such as roads, highways, canals, and railways, can cause habitat fragmentation, which is the process of altering a habitat and creating small, spatially separated land areas from a previously large and continuous habitat. Habitat fragmentation creates smaller patches of habitat that are not connected to each other. As a result of habitat fragmentation, many animals are forced to travel over unsafe areas, such as roads and railways. These animals can be harmed while crossing the transportation infrastructure to find food or mates. Habitat fragmentation also influences plants because the separation reduces the ability of plants to reproduce.

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