SIU Researcher Contributes to Study on the Impact of COVID Lockdowns on Wildlife Movement
Deer and other wild animals experienced increased movement during the COVID-19 lockdown, according to a recently published study, which included the participation of researchers from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
The study, reported in the journal Science, highlights one of the effects of the lockdown, which confined people indoors and allowed wildlife to move more freely, unaffected by human influence on their movement patterns.
As one of the more than 170 co-authors of the study, Guillaume Bastille-Rousseau, an assistant professor at SIU’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory, played a pivotal role in the research. He utilized long-term data collected from deer that he and his colleagues at CWRL had been collaring since 2018 at SIU’s Touch of Nature Outdoor Education Center and Lake Shelbyville in central Illinois.
Bastille-Rousseau explained, “Our findings were consistent with the overall conclusions of the study. The lockdown measures in the United States, and specifically in Illinois, were not as strict compared to other parts of the world. Therefore, our study sites still had some human activity, resulting in less pronounced changes in deer movement compared to other species.”
Reflecting on the lockdown, the authors of the study noted a significant reduction in human mobility, where recreational areas were closed off, leading to a decline in automobile traffic and noise.
This unprecedented “anthropage,” as termed by the authors, presented a unique opportunity to investigate the impact of human dynamics on wildlife, isolated from other factors such as landscape and environmental changes.
Bastille-Rousseau had already been engaged in deer movement studies for several years, having tracked a considerable number of collared deer in two Illinois locations. The deer were captured using clover traps, drop nets, and dart guns, and fitted with GPS collars programmed to record their locations every 30 minutes to an hour.
“These location data are then transmitted to us via satellite,” Bastille-Rousseau explained. “We then analyze the deer movement information to achieve multiple goals, ranging from understanding disease transmission to studying deer responses to predators like coyotes or bobcats.”
The availability of a substantial dataset of trackable wildlife positioned Bastille-Rousseau as a natural collaborator for the present study.
“There was an opportunity to utilize this long-term tracking data to assess the impact of changes in human behavior on deer, especially in the initial days of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders,” he said.
The early days of the lockdown saw reports in the mainstream media about animals appearing in cities, a phenomenon now supported by scientific evidence through this study.
Statistics from the study demonstrated a significant increase in animal movement in areas with stringent lockdown measures. Additionally, animals showed less aversion to roads, likely due to the reduction in traffic during the strict lockdown period.
In areas with less strict lockdowns, residents were still able to access natural areas, providing some relief from the challenges of the pandemic. However, the study did not observe significant changes in animal movement in these regions.
**Q: What was the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on wildlife movement?**
A: The lockdown resulted in increased wildlife movement, as human activity decreased and animals had more freedom to roam.
**Q: How did the researchers track deer movement for the study?**
A: The researchers collared deer with GPS devices that recorded their locations at regular intervals, allowing for analysis of their movement patterns.
**Q: Did the study find any differences in animal movement between areas with strict and less strict lockdown measures?**
A: Yes, the study revealed that areas with stricter lockdown measures experienced a greater increase in animal movement compared to areas with less strict measures.
**Q: What were the potential reasons for the observed changes in animal movement during the lockdown?**
A: The reduction in automobile traffic and noise likely contributed to animals feeling more at ease and using roads less frequently.
**Q: How does this study contribute to our understanding of the impact of human behavior on wildlife?**
A: This study provides scientific evidence to support the observation that human behavior, such as lockdowns, can influence wildlife movement patterns, allowing for a better understanding of the relationship between humans and wildlife.
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