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CSU Professor Partners with Intl. Research Team to Promote Sustainable Rural Infrastructure

Planning backed by science makes all the difference when it comes to most things, including the overall environmental health of communities. 

A newly published scientific study focuses on the impact that effective planning, management and maintenance of rural roads have on the health of air, soil, water and wildlife ecosystem in those areas. 

Emily Rauschert, Ph.D., assistant professor of Plant Ecology and Environmental Science in CSU’s Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences collaborated with researchers from across the world. The team’s collective research spans ten years and Ecology and Rural Roads: Effect, Management and Research was recently published in Issues in Ecology, the research publication of the Ecological Society of America.

The report and research documents will be distributed to government and park officials and municipal managers and policy makers, so that through education and awareness, rural roadways can be maintained and management with the highest level of ecological care in mind.

While many aspects of ecological health were included in the report, Dr. Rauschert’s focus of study highlights the impact that rural roads can have on spreading invasive plant species into natural areas. This can potentially lead to negative impacts on native plants, animal habitats, soil and water in areas such as access roads that wind through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park system, Cleveland Metroparks roadways and low volume roadways that connect Northeast Ohio’s rural communities to urban areas.

“Some of these low-volume roadways don’t always get the planning, management and focus that our high-volume, main roads and highways receive. But we need to pay close attention and plan and manage accordingly, because what affects the ecology of rural roadways can also influence the native ecosystems,” Rauschert said. “It is important to recognize that to best manage roads, we need to consider of many different aspects simultaneously, including driver safety, traffic and water flow and impacts on plants and wildlife.”

According to Rauschert, low-volume roadways are an ideal place for some invasive species to take hold – and these invasive species can choke out native plants, disrupting the natural habitats of wildlife and disturbing the native flora essential to the health of local ecosystems. Road corridors generally provide disturbed areas for invasive plants to get established, and some of them then successfully spread into surrounding forests and natural areas.

As a board member and the research chair with the Ohio Invasive Plants Council, Dr. Rauschert also helps to identify invasive species that may threaten ecosystems throughout northeast Ohio—and then make recommendations to policy makers, landowners, and Ohio nurseries and garden centers about invasive plants.

“We have board members representing multiple stakeholders, from multiple levels of government and board members who represent the horticultural industry and environmental consultants.  New regulations in Ohio prohibit the sale, purchase and distribution of designated invasive plant species, and we work with homeowners and landowners to provide native alternatives to commonly planted invasive species.” said Rauschert.

Read and learn more about identifying invasive plant species and native plant alternatives for Ohio gardeners and growers.