Wild mammals roamed as Covid kept people at home
Why It Matters: Traffic can take a toll on wildlife.
Many previous studies have shown that roads can change the behavior of wildlife. However, it has been difficult to separate the effects of permanent changes in the landscape, such as deforestation to build a highway, from the effects of everyday human activities, such as rush-hour traffic.
In the first weeks and months of the pandemic, cars disappeared while roads naturally remained, allowing scientists to figure out the effects of traffic. The new findings confirm those from smaller, more localized studies from the pandemic era and provide further evidence that many wild animals change their behavior – and quickly – when cars disappear.
In some ways, that’s good news because it suggests that even temporary traffic restrictions — in critical habitats, for example during certain breeding or migratory seasons — could have benefits for animals, said Dr. Tucker. “It shows that animals still have that flexibility or ability to adapt their behavior to us,” she said.
Background: Scientists study the “anthropause”.
The sudden global decline in human movement following the arrival of Covid-19 is sometimes referred to as the “anthropause”. Scientists around the world took the opportunity to learn more about how humans affect nature and what happens when they disappear.
The new study is a product of the Covid-19 Bio-Logging Initiative, which was launched in 2020. Once the closures began, scientists who were already tracking wild animal movements for their own research projects began collaborating and compiling their data to learn more about animal movements during the pandemic. In all, more than 600 researchers have contributed more than a billion location data for around 13,000 animals from 200 species, said Christian Rutz, a behavioral ecologist at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and chair of the initiative, which has multiple lines of inquiry.
In the new Science study, researchers compared the movements of land mammals during the first lockdowns, which began between February 1 and April 28, 2020, to their movements during the same period in 2019. Although the researchers uncovered some general trends, they did they also noted some general trends, documenting considerable variability and finding greater effects in some species and regions than others.
What’s Next: More dates coming soon.
The researchers want to study what happened after lockdowns were eased and whether wild mammals returned to their previous movement patterns while humans returned to their normal activities.
The bio-logging initiative is ongoing and should soon be ready to publish more results on bird and mammal movements, said Dr. Rutz in an email. “It’s so exciting to be able to share these insights after a three-year journey,” he said. “And we are already thinking about the next steps to study human-animal interactions.”