As COVID-19 lockdowns forced billions indoors, wildlife came out to play in many parts of the world. Sightings have been reported of coyotes roaming through San Francisco, dolphins frolicking along Istanbul’s shores, and wild goats wandering the streets of a North Wales town.
And researchers have been watching. One group of experts recently coined the term “anthropause” to describe the global slowdown of human activity during the pandemic and noted the conditions could produce critical insights into human-wildlife interactions.
“Coordinated global wildlife research during the anthropause will make contributions that go well beyond informing conservation science — it will challenge humanity to reconsider our future on Earth,” wrote the team of researchers led by Christian Rutz, 2019–2020 Grass Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, in a recent article published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. The paper amounts to a call to study humankind’s impact on wildlife using data collected during the pandemic, and suggests such research could yield “opportunities to reinvent the way we live our lives, and to forge a mutually beneficial coexistence with other species.”
Rutz, a biology professor at the University of St. Andrews and a leading expert on animal tool behavior and crows, co-launched the global research initiative this spring during a Radcliffe fellowship. Shortly after returning to his home in Scotland in March (several months earlier than planned due to the pandemic) Rutz and several fellow biologists began discussing via email how they could take advantage of the pause in human movement to study its effects on avian, marine, and terrestrial wildlife.