Scientists declare unprecedented ‘anthropause’ due to pandemic

The current pandemic not only affects humans, it also affects wildlife. As the world closes in to prevent further spread of the devastating coronavirus, suddenly there are far fewer cars on the road, planes in the sky, and ships in the water. And nature surely has noticed.

Recently, cougars have been seen roaming the streets of Santiago, Chile, and coyotes have been combing through San Francisco, while rats have become increasingly aggressive in their search for increasingly scarce debris, and gangs of hungry urban monkeys fight over diminished resources.

Some people started calling it the ‘Great Break’. Now scientists have devised a more precise and technical way to describe these exceptional circumstances, describing what we could learn from their effects.

The term ‘anthropause,’ they explain, is a reference to the “considerable global slowdown in modern human activities, especially travel,” which would be foolish not to study.

“Society’s priority must be to address the immense human tragedy and hardships caused by COVID-19,” the researchers write in a recent comment to Ecology of nature and evolution.

“But we cannot afford to miss the opportunity to record, for the first time on a global scale, the extent to which modern human mobility affects wildlife.”

That impact may not always be obvious or expected. While current blockades across the world have left some animals thriving in peace and quiet, others are at greater risk than ever before.

Endangered species, for example, experience more poaching during this time, as economic difficulties affect some regions more than others and increases the exploitation of natural resources.

Now is the perfect time to further study these complex interactions, the team argues. It is of utmost importance that field biologists continue to collect data even during blockades, provided that appropriate precautions are taken and funds are not diverted from front-line work on the virus.

According to one of the co-authors, behavioral biologist Matthias-Claudio Loretto of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Germany, with such valuable data under our belt we will be able to “investigate whether animal movements in modern landscapes are predominantly affected by built structures or by the presence of humans. “

And that is a big problem. Current research has failed to separate these two factors, and current circumstances are ideal for further observation.

That is why researchers are calling for a new COVID-19 Bio-Logging Initiative to pool resources and expertise in fish, birds and mammals from around the world; They have already received more than 200 data sets, according to Francesca Cagnacci, principal investigator for the Edmund Mach Foundation in Italy.

The plan is to use electronic tracking devices connected to the animals, called ‘bio-recorders’, to record their movement, behavior, activity, physiology, and habitats, during this unprecedented time. An additional initiative will integrate data from a variety of species monitoring programs to assess the impacts of mobility and human activity.

“Throughout the world, field biologists have equipped animals with miniature tracking devices,” says biologist Christian Rutz of the University of St Andrews, UK.

“These bio-recorders provide a gold mine of information about animal movement and behavior, which we can now leverage to improve our understanding of human-wildlife interactions, with benefits for all.”

This is a tragic moment for humans, to be sure, but researchers hope that the scientific knowledge we can gain during this crisis will help us cope with the next, reducing human and animal suffering in the future.

Earth is currently in its sixth known extinction event, and our coexistence with wildlife leaves much to be desired. Perhaps the current circumstances can teach us something about how to better share this increasingly populated planet.

“No one is asking humans to remain in permanent confinement,” says Martin Wikelski, an animal behavior specialist at the Max Planck Institute.

“But we can discover that relatively minor changes in our lifestyles and transportation networks can have significant benefits for both ecosystems and humans.”

In fact, the reduced level of human movement that we are currently experiencing only takes us a few decades back; While much has changed in those years, reflecting on that change and making small modifications to our modern lifestyles could have considerable benefits.

Minor changes to our transportation networks, for example, can dramatically reduce detrimental effects on the movement of animals.

“Coordinated research of global wildlife during anthropause will make contributions that go far beyond informing conservation science: it will challenge humanity to reconsider our future on Earth,” the comment concludes.

“There will be unforeseen opportunities to reinvent the way we live and forge a mutually beneficial coexistence with other species.”

“It would be wonderful if careful research during this crisis period helped us find innovative ways to control our increasingly expansive lifestyles, rediscover how important a healthy environment is to our own well-being, and replace a sense of belonging with a feeling of belonging. “

The comment was published in Ecology of nature and evolution.