Wild Mammals Roam Farther: An Unforeseen Effect of COVID-19 Lockdowns

Puma Cougar Mountain Lion Close Up

During COVID lockdowns, cougars were seen wandering through Santiago, Chile.

Human behavior changed dramatically during lockdowns in the first months of the global COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in behavioral changes of land mammals.

A global study found that during strict COVID-19 lockdowns, animals traveled up to 73% longer distances and ventured 36% closer to roads, likely due to reduced human activity. However, in areas with less restrictive lockdowns, animal travel decreased, possibly because these regions saw increased human visits to nature spots. The findings illustrate the significant impact of human presence on wildlife behavior and suggest potential benefits of human behavioral changes to wildlife.

Tucker and 174 colleagues, including members of the COVID-19 Bio-Logging Initiative, analyzed global data from land mammals tracked by GPS devices. Tucker: “There were many media reports that nature was recovering during those first lockdowns. For example, cougars were roaming the streets of Santiago, Chile, but we wanted to know: is there any evidence of this? Or were people simply paying more attention to everything while being at home?”

Movements of mammals

Tucker and colleagues collated data from the movements of 43 different species of land mammals from around the world. In total, more than 2,300 individuals were included: from elephants and giraffes to bears and deer. The researchers compared the mammals’ movements during the first period of lockdowns, from January to mid-May 2020, with movements during the same months a year earlier. “We saw that during strict lockdowns, animals traveled up to 73 percent longer distances in a period of 10 days than the year before, when there were no lockdowns. We also saw that animals occurred on average 36 percent closer to roads than the year before. This is probably because those roads were quieter during strict lockdowns,” said Tucker.

Wildlife During Covid

Wildlife during covid. Credit: Mark Gocke

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 traveled 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.

Unique opportunity

The lockdowns provided a unique opportunity to study the effects of an abrupt change in human presence on wildlife. “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,” says Tucker.

For more on this research, see COVID-19 Lockdowns Altered Mammal Movement Behaviors Worldwide.

Reference: “Behavioral responses of terrestrial mammals to COVID-19 lockdowns” by Marlee A. Tucker, Aafke M. Schipper, Tempe S. F. Adams, Nina Attias, Tal Avgar, Natarsha L. Babic, Kristin J. Barker, Guillaume Bastille-Rousseau, Dominik M. Behr, Jerrold L. Belant, Dean E. Beyer, Niels Blaum, J. David Blount, Dirk Bockmühl, Ricardo Luiz Pires Boulhosa, Michael B. Brown, Bayarbaatar Buuveibaatar, Francesca Cagnacci, Justin M. Calabrese, Rok Cerne, Simon Chamaillé-Jammes, Aung Nyein Chan, Michael J. Chase, Yannick Chaval, Yvette Chenaux-Ibrahim, Seth G. Cherry, Duško Cirovic, Emrah Çoban, Eric K. Cole, Laura Conlee, Alyson Courtemanch, Gabriele Cozzi, Sarah C. Davidson, Darren DeBloois, Nandintsetseg Dejid, Vickie DeNicola, Arnaud L. J. Desbiez, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, David Drake, Michael Egan, Jasper A.J. Eikelboom, William F. Fagan, Morgan J. Farmer, Julian Fennessy, Shannon P. Finnegan, Christen H. Fleming, Bonnie Fournier, Nicholas L. Fowler, Mariela G. Gantchoff, Alexandre Garnier, Benedikt Gehr, Chris Geremia, Jacob R. Goheen, Morgan L. Hauptfleisch, Mark Hebblewhite, Morten Heim, Anne G. Hertel, Marco Heurich, A. J. Mark Hewison, James Hodson, Nicholas Hoffman, J. Grant C. Hopcraft, Djuro Huber, Edmund J. Isaac, Karolina Janik, Miloš Ježek, Örjan Johansson, Neil R. Jordan, Petra Kaczensky, Douglas N. Kamaru, Matthew J. Kauffman, Todd M. Kautz, Roland Kays, Allicia P. Kelly, Jonas Kindberg, Miha Krofel, Josip Kusak, Clayton T. Lamb, Tayler N. LaSharr, Peter Leimgruber, Horst Leitner, Michael Lierz, John D.C. Linnell, Purevjav Lkhagvaja, Ryan A. Long, José Vicente López-Bao, Matthias-Claudio Loretto, Pascal Marchand, Hans Martin, Lindsay A. Martinez, Roy T. McBride, Ashley A.D. McLaren, Erling Meisingset, Joerg Melzheimer, Evelyn H. Merrill, Arthur D. Middleton, Kevin L. Monteith, Seth A. Moore, Bram Van Moorter, Nicolas Morellet, Thomas Morrison, Rebekka Müller, Atle Mysterud, Michael J Noonan, David O’Connor, Daniel Olson, Kirk A. Olson, Anna C. Ortega, Federico Ossi, Manuela Panzacchi, Robert Patchett, Brent R. Patterson, Rogerio Cunha de Paula, John Payne, Wibke Peters, Tyler R. Petroelje, Benjamin J. Pitcher, Boštjan Pokorny, Kim Poole, Hubert Potocnik, Marie-Pier Poulin, Robert M. Pringle, Herbert H.T. Prins, Nathan Ranc, Slaven Reljic, Benjamin Robb, Ralf Röder, Christer M. Rolandsen, Christian Rutz, Albert R. Salemgareyev, Gustaf Samelius, Heather Sayine-Crawford, Sarah Schooler, Çagan H. Sekercioglu, Nuria Selva, Paola Semenzato, Agnieszka Sergiel, Koustubh Sharma, Avery L. Shawler, Johannes Signer, Václav Silovský, João Paulo Silva, Richard Simon, Rachel A. Smiley, Douglas W. Smith, Erling J. Solberg, Diego Ellis-Soto, Orr Spiegel, Jared Stabach, Jenna Stacy-Dawes, Daniel R. Stahler, John Stephenson, Cheyenne Stewart, Olav Strand, Peter Sunde, Nathan J. Svoboda, Jonathan Swart, Jeffrey J. Thompson, Katrina L. Toal, Kenneth Uiseb, Meredith C. VanAcker, Marianela Velilla, Tana L. Verzuh, Bettina Wachter, Brittany L. Wagler, Jesse Whittington, Martin Wikelski, Christopher C. Wilmers, George Wittemyer, Julie K. Young, Filip Zieba, Tomasz Zwijacz-Kozica, Mark A. J. Huijbregts, Thomas Mueller, 8 June 2023, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.abo6499

Be the first to comment on "Wild Mammals Roam Farther: An Unforeseen Effect of COVID-19 Lockdowns"

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.