Covid Lockdowns “Embolden” Invasive Species and Wildlife Poaching

(p. 1) In a typical spring, breeding seabirds — and human seabird-watchers — flock to Stora Karlsö, an island off the coast of Sweden.

That might seem like a tidy parable about how nature recovers when people disappear from the landscape — if not for the fact that ecosystems are complex. The newly numerous eagles repeatedly soared past the cliffs where a protected population of common murres laid its eggs, flushing the smaller birds from their ledges.

In the commotion, some eggs tumbled from the cliffs; others were snatched by predators while the murres were away. The murres’ breeding performance dropped 26 percent, Jonas Hentati-Sundberg, a marine ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, found. “They were flying out in panic, and they lost their eggs,” he said.

. . .

(p. 6) Multiple studies found that as traffic eased in the spring of 2020, the number of wild animals that were struck and killed by cars declined. But the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions soon crept back up, even as traffic remained below normal levels, one team of researchers reported.

“Per mile driven, there were more accidents happening during the pandemic, which we interpreted as changes in animal space use,” said Joel Abraham, a graduate student studying ecology at Princeton University and an author of the study. “Animals started using roads. And it was difficult for them to stop, even when traffic started to rebound.”

The lockdowns seemed to embolden some invasive species, increasing the daytime activity of Eastern cottontail rabbits in Italy, where their rapid expansion may threaten native hares, while disrupting efforts to control others.

. . .

Spikes in wildlife poaching and persecution, as well as illegal logging and mining, were reported in multiple countries.

Economic insecurity might have driven some of this activity, but experts believe that it was also made possible by lapses in human protection, including reduced staffing in parks and preserves and even an absence of tourists, whose presence might typically discourage illegal activity.

“We’re not entirely the bad guys,” said Mitra Nikoo, a research assistant at the University of Victoria. “We’re actually doing a lot more good than we’ve been giving ourselves credit for.”

For the full story see:

Emily Anthes. “‘Anthropause’ During Pandemic Healed Nature, but Hurt It, Too.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, July 17, 2022): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 21, 2022, and has the title “Did Nature Heal During the Pandemic ‘Anthropause’?”)

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