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Hard Surfaces

Human-made compacted surfaces often covered with concrete, bitumen, tiles or pavers.


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Reporting Category

Urban Ecosystems 


What ecosystem functions do hard surfaces perform??

The most recognisable hard surfaces are public roads.

Although hard surfaces provide a range of benefits to society, the ecosystem functions they perform are quite limited compared to the other ecosystems in SEQ (see Table 1). The most important ecosystem function provided by hard surfaces is water regulation. The ability to alter topography and permeability of surfaces enables humans to effectively spatially distribute and direct water where and how they see fit, as well as control how fast the water moves. The water regulating functions provided by hard surfaces are not always beneficial, however. Due to the limited permeability of hard surfaces, they inhibit the filtration of water through soils and therefore limit the recharging of aquifers.

Hard surfaces also provide biological control which can have both positive and negative consequences. The construction of hard surfaces results in ecosystem fragmentation and many species are unwilling or unable to move across this anthropogenic ecosystem. Consequently, hard surfaces are effective at preventing the spread of pests and vectors; however they can also inhibit the resilience of other ecosystems by limiting their size, biodiversity and the genetic diversity of inhabiting populations.

Hard surfaces perform gas regulation. Highly urbanised areas with expansive hard surfaces often experience higher temperatures than surrounding natural environments, resulting in altered rates of gas regulation. This phenomenon is known as the ‘heat island effect’ and primarily results because hard surfaces heat up to higher temperatures than moister, more natural environments and the complex structure of urbanised areas often results in heat being trapped.

Landscape opportunity is another function being provided, by enabling animal and plant behaviours to be studied effectively and opportunties for a range of human activities. Various hard surfaces in SEQ also have cultural, historical, aesthetic and recreational values (e.g. monumental structures and roads, historical buildings and sport and recreation facilities). 


Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other Ecosystem Reporting Categories) hard surfaces perform each ecosystem function.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation            
Climate Regulation            
Disturbance Regulation            
Water Regulation            
Soil Retention            
Nutrient Regulation            
Waste Treatment and Assimilation            
Biological Control            
Barrier Effect of Vegetation            
Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats            
Soil Formation            
Provisioning Functions
Raw Materials            
Water Supply            
Genetic Resources            
Provision of Shade and Shelter            
Pharmacological Resources            
Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity            


What types of hard surfaces are in SEQ?

This Ecosystem Reporting Category includes all human-made hard surfaces, for example roads, car parks, airports, footpaths, driveways and roof tops. Hard surfaces can be made of many substances such concrete, bitumen, paving, tin and/or tiles.


What is the area and extent of hard surfaces in SEQ?


Vegetation can negatively impact the water regulation function performed by hard surfaces.

Links to other publications and websites

Dept. Local Government and Planning
Dept. Transport and Main Roads

Hard surface ecosystems cover approximately 217 km2, 0.86% of SEQ. Hard surfaces are located anywhere there is human development (e.g. roads, airports, industry). Significant areas shown on the map are found in the lower Brisbane areas and the M1 Motorway linking Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Of course scattered hard surfaces occur across all of SEQ and major corridors of hard surfaces can also be seen between Brisbane and Ipswich and north from Brisbane towards Redcliffe.


What is the vulnerability of hard surfaces and threats to this ecosystem in SEQ? 

Hard surfaces are relatively resilient and robust ecosystems. Compared to many other ecosystems, hard surfaces can be successfully maintained, restored and expanded through anthropogenic activities. However these ecosystems can be relatively expensive.

Although damage to hard surfaces can often be successfully repaired, a number of threats still exist which have potential to adversely impact the functions provided by this ecosystem.  Anthropogenic threats include demolition or removal of hard surfaces, vandalism, damage by heavy vehicles and general wear by high volumes of human or vehicular traffic. Natural threats to this ecosystem include damage from extreme weather events (e.g. floods, storms, landslides, earthquakes and heatwaves), general weathering caused primarily by rain and heat, and vegetation impacts (e.g. falling trees and root intrusion).  


How do we manage hard surfaces in SEQ? 

Due to the diversity and magnitude of hard surfaces, management of this ecosystem is complex. A significant portion of hard surfaces exist on private land (including buildings, footpaths, concreted or paved surfaces etc.). Local and state government (e.g. the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning) town planners (supported by the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 and a variety of planning instruments such as the SEQ Regional Plan 2009 - 2031) often initially manage the form and location of these hard surfaces, however post-construction management of this ecosystem is usually the responsibility of the private land owners or tenants.

Active and public transport infrastructure and roads are some of the most significant hard surfaces located on public land. Management of this infrastructure is primarily the responsibility of local governments, the Queensland Government Department of Transport and Main Roads and  affiliated transport agencies (e.g. Queensland Rail). These organisations are guided by a myriad of policies, management plans and legislation (including the Transport Infrastructure Act 1994 and the Transport Planning and Coordination Act 1994).

This ecosystem is quite unique as its existence and expansion necessitates the destruction of other ecosystems. Consequently, the planning and construction of hard surfaces should be carefully managed to ensure the form and location of this ecosystem maximises its functions whilst minimising its impacts on the functions of other ecosystems.