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Minor changes could improve human-wildlife coexistence

In a new global initiative, scientists have investigated how animals responded to reduced levels of human activity during the Covid-19 pandemic. The research is inspiring new strategies for improving human-wildlife coexistence. 

When countries around the world went into lockdown to help contain the COVID-19 outbreak, human mobility was drastically reduced. The uncommon circumstances have presented an opportunity to gain more insight into the dynamics of human-wildlife interactions.

Unusual wildlife sightings, such as pumas in downtown Santiago, Chile, suggest that nature has greatly responding to a decline in human activity. 

While some animals seemed to appear in larger numbers throughout lockdowns, others faced new challenges. For example, endangered species in remote regions become more exposed to poachers when humans are not keeping watch over them.

The study authors emphasize that the priority must be to tackle the immense human tragedy and hardship caused by Covid-19, but the unprecedented opportunity to investigate the extent to which modern human mobility affects wildlife should not be missed.

The researchers have formed the “COVID-19 Bio-Logging Initiative” to investigate the movement and behavior of animals before, during, and after COVID-19 lockdowns. The experts are using electronic tracking devices called bio-loggers.

Study lead author Professor Christian Rutz is a biologist at the University of St Andrews and president of the International Bio-Logging Society.

“All over the world, field biologists have fitted animals with miniature tracking devices. These bio-loggers provide a goldmine of information on animal movement and behavior, which we can now tap to improve our understanding of human-wildlife interactions, with benefits for all,” said Professor Rutz.

The team will combine data from a wide variety of animals, including fish, birds, and mammals, to assemble a global view of the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Dr. Matthias-Claudio Loretto is a researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Radolfzell, Germany.

She explained that the study will make it possible to address questions that were previously too complex. “We will be able to investigate if the movements of animals in modern landscapes are predominantly affected by built structures, or by the presence of humans. That is a big deal,” said Dr. Loretto.

According to Professor Martin Wikelski, the insights will inspire innovative proposals for improving human-wildlife coexistence.

“Nobody is asking for humans to stay in permanent lockdown. But we may discover that relatively minor changes to our lifestyles and transport networks can potentially have significant benefits for both ecosystems and humans,” said Professor Wikelski.

The study is published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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