Down to Earth

Wildlife Scientists Examine the Great ‘Human Pause'

Researchers have started a project to track wildlife before, during, and after the Coronavirus lockdown

NBCUniversal, Inc.

During this COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine, human activities have slowed down significantly around the world, presenting a unique opportunity for wildlife scientists.

As a result, researchers have started a project to track wildlife before, during, and after the Coronavirus lockdown.

Participating scientists are calling this period the “anthropause,” a world-wide slowdown of human activity. It’s a never-before opportunity to investigate how animal mobility responds when human mobility is reduced, and hopefully guide on how best to share our increasingly crowded planet.

 Professor Christian Rutz, of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, is one of the leaders of the global research initiative that’s fitting animals with bio-logging devices which track their movement and collect data.

“We’re offered data from 158 different species, across 244 study populations, that’s truly global coverage across all the continents, including marine species as well as terrestrial species," Rutz said.

In an interview with NBC 7, Rutz said the floodgates are open, and the project has tens of thousands of data points flooding in.

“The pooling of information around the globe, across species, may allow us to pinpoint really important processes that can then feed into management and policy initiatives,” Rutz said.

The slow down of human activity will allow scientists to investigate these effects across geographic areas, across ecosystems, and species. It’s an opportunity that previously didn’t exist.

 “This project hopes to identify previously unrecognized opportunities. Small changes to the way we live and construct our lives from the way we make our transport networks to the way we use these networks have large benefits for wildlife, and in turn, ecosystems and, in turn, us humans. So, it’s identifying these little tweaks that have maximum impact,” Rutz said.

For example, what shapes and impacts animal movement the most?  Is it the presence of roads and structures?  Or is it us, the presence of humans? 

 “This study will allow us to disentangle the mechanisms that affect animal movement," Rutz said.

The findings will allow the development of strategies that should be mutually beneficial to wildlife and humans, leading to better ways to share our crowded planet.  Rutz says it’s important to recognize this is not just about species conservation and conservation planning. It’s about much bigger questions.

“Human well-being critically depends on a healthy environment. So, the healthier the environment is, the better we understand wildlife, the better it is for us," Rutz said.

Rutz wants to make it clear that this project will not recommend that humans stay in lockdown.

“We want humans to go about leading their lives and enjoy travel and move about. This is not about telling humans how to lead their lives or restricting ways to lead their lives, it’s about finding innovative," he said.

For more information on the project and to track its findings, click here.

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