What did wildlife do during Covid-19 lockdown?

EWB is proud to be contributors to this new and exciting publication, Behavioral responses of terrestrial mammals to COVID-19 lockdowns, in Science! So, what did wild animals do while people were in lockdown?

Policies to reduce human movement during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic produced a kind of natural experiment to observe how human activities affect animal behavior. Using GPS tracking data from 2300 individual mammals of 43 species, Tucker et al. documented changes in mammal movement patterns during the spring of 2020 compared with the previous year. In locations with strict lockdown policies, animals traveled longer distances during the lockdown period. In highly populated areas, mammals moved less frequently and were closer to roads than they were before the pandemic. These results demonstrate how human activities constrain animal movement and what happens when those activities cease.

“Our research has shown that animals can respond directly to changes in human behavior. This offers hope for the future, because in principle this means that making some adjustments to our own behavior could have a positive effect on animals,” Prof. Tucker concludes.

Open access, download the Publication,

Marlee A. Tucker et al. ,Behavioral responses of terrestrial mammals to COVID-19 lockdowns.Science 380,1059-1064(2023)  https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abo6499open_in_new

 Media links about the publication: 

During the early weeks and months of the pandemic, the cars disappeared while the roads, of course, remained, allowing scientists to tease out the effects of traffic. The new findings reinforce those from smaller, more localized pandemic-era studies, providing further evidence that many wild animals change their behavior — and quickly — when cars disappear.” https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/08/science/anthropause-pandemic-animals.html

“In locations where COVID-19 lockdown policies were stricter, animals traveled on average 73% farther during the lockdown period than the previous year. This suggests that animals in these areas explored more of the landscape when vehicle movement was minimized. Additionally, the study found that short-distance mammal movements in populated human areas reduced, and individuals traveled 36% closer to roadways during lockdowns. This is possibly because animals were less afraid of road traffic or human presence in these areas and exhibited shorter fleeing distances as a result.” https://www.newswise.com/coronavirus/wild-mammals-moved-farther-during-severe-covid-19-lockdowns/?article_id=793882

 “Animals traveled distances up to 73% longer than in the same 10-day period the previous year.” https://english.elpais.com/science-tech/2023-06-08/the-largest-study-of-animal-mobility-during-the-covid-lockdown-shows-how-humans-disrupt-wildlife.html


“There are several explanations for these results: there were fewer people outside during strict lockdowns, giving animals the opportunity to explore new areas. “In contrast, in areas with less strict lockdowns, we saw that animals travelled shorter distances. This may have to do with the fact that during those lockdowns, people were actually encouraged to go into nature. As a result, some nature areas were busier than before COVID-19,” says Thomas Mueller, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University Frankfurt, who designed the study together with Tucker.” https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/991412

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