As our human-occupied areas extend further beyond their borders into lands once only occupied by nature, wildlife is being pushed together in higher concentrations – especially near the suburbs. According to a new study from North Carolina State University, this is leading to carnivores like coyotes and bobcats to interact at a higher rate.
This new research looked at how carnivores interact with each other when they’re sharing space in small suburban forest patches. The study was done with the aid of 557 volunteers and 1,260 remote cameras set up in suburban, exurban, rural, and wild areas – allowing the researchers to document 6,413 carnivores. The carnivore species documented in the study included bobcats, coyotes, and both gray and red foxes.
“We found a lot of animal activity in the suburbs, but it was really concentrated in the remaining green space. We think carnivores are trying to avoid people, so they are moving through the strips of remaining forest, where they are more likely to interact with each other,” explains Arielle Parsons, lead author and researcher with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “What we discovered was that preserving green space in our cities is important not only for humans but also for wildlife species. Green space provides cover, it provides food and it’s a good way for carnivores to navigate without being in any danger from people.”
Previously, some had theorized that smaller carnivores might stick closer to people in these situations, in order to use them as “human shields” from larger predators. But this study found the opposite effect. “We found, on the contrary, that gray foxes and coyotes especially – our smallest species and our largest species – actually tended to use the same sites,” says Parsons. “In other words, they didn’t avoid each other, which was pretty surprising.”
This finding is good news for those of us who would prefer to keep our distance from carnivores (our own dogs don’t count). Parsons explains, “Our study is showing that carnivores are trying to stay away from people by using forested areas. If we give them the opportunity to do that through preservation of green space and green space corridors through our urban areas, carnivores are going to continue to live nearby, which is actually a good thing for the ecology of our cities.”
It turns out that the animal activity within these green strips closely mimics the methods by which we interact within our own urbanized and suburbanized communities. “Just like roadways and sidewalks focus human movement and increase the potential for interaction, we find the high use of strips of remaining green space by carnivores increases their level of interaction,” says study co-author Roland Kays, a zoologist with NC State and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. “This shows how urban planning can affect the ecology of animals that share cities with people.”
This study further emphasizes the need for careful planning involving the nature and wildlife around us when it comes to expanding our urban and suburban areas. In our quest for continued growth, we often forget that we share our space with other creatures as well.