Professor Yale University New Haven, Connecticut, United States
Anthropogenic impacts on animal behaviors (such as movement) are widely described phenomena with potentially important effects on, for example, reproductive success, mate choice, survival, and others. Despite the substantial attention paid to the effect of humans on animal movements, disentangling the specific drivers of these observed effects has remained elusive. This is due, in large part, to persistent confounds between the putative mechanisms (i.e., human activity is typically correlated with static human infrastructure). Widespread government-induced lockdowns, implemented in response to the emergent COVID-19 pandemic, broke this confound in many parts of the world. Many large urban centers experienced substantially reduced human activity (“Anthropause”) whereas many parks, for example, received influxes of new visitors. Thus, the tragic spread of the SARS-COV-2 virus presents an opportunity to study the underlying mechanisms driving human impacts on animal movement. We analyzed a dataset of animal movements (gathered as part of the International Bio-logging Society’s Covid-19 Initiative) across the continental United States. Paired with high-resolution human mobility data and remote-sensed environmental variables, we considered how space use (estimated via dynamic Brownian bridge movement models) and environmental niche varied as a function of both human infrastructure and human activity.
We gathered a dataset ultimately consisting of approximately 12 million relocations from over 4000 individuals across 47 species of terrestrial birds and mammals. Preliminary results show idiosyncratic responses to the interacting human variables (infrastructure and mobility) across taxa and groups during the Anthropause. Species-level trait-based approaches allow us to disentangle the mixture of responses to human activity and infrastructure with respect to both space use and environmental niches. Such analyses have vast potential to support future applied research and conservation efforts by outlining the mechanistic basis for particular behavioral responses to the components of human disturbance. Our work provides a first national-scale understanding of wildlife responses during the Anthropause and leverages a high-resolution human mobility dataset. We highlight the need for dynamic and fine-scale biological, environmental, and anthropogenic data to understand complex behavioral responses of wildlife to humans under rapid anthropogenic and environmental change.