Why roads and rivers can be straight or winding: how physical and sociohistorical factors produce contemporary regional landscape patterns

Abstract : Efforts to understand and predict socioecological systems in an historical context have increased. We investigated sinuosity patterns of roads and rivers to understand why the geometric design of roads and rivers corresponds to natural physical constraints in some regions but not in others. We hypothesized that, for physical reasons, the ratio of road-to-river sinuosity should be ~1 in canyons, >1 in mountains, and <1 in plains and that sociohistorical influences may have modified these physically based sinuosity patterns, particularly in contemporary plains. We assessed these hypotheses with data from nonurban, intermediate-size roads and small- to intermediate-size rivers from 20 regions in France, Germany, the UK, and eastern and western USA. Distinct sociohistorical differences among regions affected the evolution of road-network geometry, but modern engineering approaches homogenized these legacies. Contemporary road sinuosity reffects former demands for scenic roads in US mountains and different historical inheritance practices in northern and southern Germany. Contemporary river sinuosity reffects physical constraints in canyons and mountains, but major historical, socioeconomic, and cultural differences among regions and countries in plains. We conclude that: 1) un- derstanding the physical context that complicates sociohistorical analyses is essential for formulating hypotheses; 2) tests of such hypotheses may help define region-specific priorities and targets for ecological restoration; 3) link- ing land change with physical and sociohistorical drivers requires multiple conceptual models; and 4) changes in social, economic, cultural, religious, or political systems occur at different rates, more stochastically, and with fewer predictable consequences, than changes in ecological systems.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - 9:49:07 AM
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Bernhard Statzner, Nuria Bonada, Vincent H. Resh. Why roads and rivers can be straight or winding: how physical and sociohistorical factors produce contemporary regional landscape patterns. Freshwater Science, 2016, 35 (4), pp.1-15. ⟨10.1086/688494⟩. ⟨hal-01369452⟩

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