Researchers in the UK are set to study the “anthropause”, a term they have coined to refer to the coronavirus-induced lockdown period and its impact on other species. The unprecedented curbs imposed on millions of people around the world, mainly due to restrictions in travel, led to reports of unusual animal behaviour. For instance, there were pumas sighted in Chile’s Santiago, jackals in the parks of Tel Aviv in Israel, dolphins in the waters of Italy and even a monkey fight on the streets of Thailand.
The researchers believe studying this period will provide valuable insights into the relationship between human-wildlife interactions in the 21st century. They have outlined their study in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
What is the ‘anthropause’ period?
Researchers have suggested the lockdown period, which is also being referred to as the “Great Pause”, be referred to with a more precise term. “We propose ‘anthropause’ to refer specifically to a considerable global slowing of modern human activities, notably travel,” they said.
“We are aware that the correct prefix is ‘anthropo-’ (for ‘human’) but opted for the shortened form, which is easier to remember and use, and where the missing ‘po’ is still echoed in the pronunciation of ‘pause’,” they added.
Anthropause: Who do the researchers hope to find?
In their outline, researchers mention how the scientific community can use these “extraordinary circumstance” provided by global lockdowns to understand how human activity affects wildlife. They maintain that as a result of the lockdown, nature appears to have changed, especially in urban environments, since not only are there now more animals, but also some “unexpected visitors.”
“People have reported sightings of pumas in downtown Santiago, Chile, of dolphins in untypically calm waters in the harbour of Trieste, Italy, and of jackals in broad daylight in urban parks in Tel Aviv, Israel. Hidden from view, animals may also start roaming more freely across the world’s oceans, following reductions in vessel traffic and noise-pollution levels,” they said.
On the other hand, there are some animals for whom the lockdown may have made things more challenging. For instance, for various urban-dwelling animals, such as rats, gulls and monkeys who depend on food provided or discarded by humans, the lockdown would have made life more difficult.
Why is studying the lockdown important?
According to the researchers, as expanding human populations continue to transform their environments at “unprecedented rates”, studying how human and animal behaviour may be linked can help provide insights that may be useful in preserving global biodiversity, maintaining the integrity of ecosystems and predicting global zoonoses and environmental changes.
Further, because the reduction in human activity during the lockdown on both land and sea has been “unparalleled” in recent history, the effects have been “drastic, sudden and widespread”. Essentially, this gives them a chance to study the extent to which modern human mobility affects wildlife.
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“…the pandemic affords an opportunity to build a global picture of animal responses by pooling large numbers of datasets. Such collaborative projects can integrate the spatial and temporal approaches outlined above, in an attempt to uncover causal relationships,” researchers said.
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