Over the course of the pandemic, changes in human behavior have led to animals shifting how they interact with each other and the world.
Dr. Eric Strauss, the executive director at Loyola Marymount University’s Center for Urban Resilience and the author of "Hummingbirds of the Gottlieb Native Garden," spoke with “Inside the Issues” host Alex Cohen about how flora and fauna have been impacted over the last 18 months.
He says the disruption in our human habits has been boiled down to a single term: anthropause.
“The anthropause refers to this window where because of the COVID pandemic and the enforced reduction of interactions we've had as people both in our travel and activities in our local neighborhoods, it really reflects a reduction in the human impact on both local and global ecosystems,” Dr. Strauss said.
Humans are currently living in the geologic period known as the anthropocene, where they are the most important forces of change both positive and negative, Dr. Strauss explained. Once the pandemic hit, animals acted in unpredictable ways throughout Southern California. Some large mammals were sighted in previously unseen areas, while others like mountain lions, coyotes and bobcats largely did not change their movements in the relatively short period of time that COVID-19 has been spreading.
“Most animals have determined their territorial boundaries that they've competed for, they've dispersed into and so forth,” he said. “Now just because we removed the human impact, the opportunities might be there for them to forge new locations, but they're constrained by their territorial boundaries by the rules they've established for their own behaviors.”
The LMU professor also noted that there are inherent biases in our animal sightings because scientists rely on community observations. During the pandemic, people have had more time to observe wildlife while working from home during the week, so some animals being sighted have most likely always been there, they were just not regularly seen because humans were not around to notice them.
Despite this observational bias, Dr. Strauss said some animals have definitely changed their behavior over the course of COVID-19. As the world has gotten quieter with less cars on the roads, animals no longer have to scream their mating calls to be heard.
“Birdsong has started to become less noisy, more complex again and bringing the frequencies down to the normal calls they would be making. That’s been a very interesting change and has been reported in studies in Europe, in the United States, really around the world,” he explained. “This sort of quieting has allowed a sort of instantaneous kind of behavioral response.”
Now that the world is pivoting back to a new normal as schools and workplaces reopen and most people are vaccinated, Dr. Strauss said animals will be affected by that over time as well, but currently it is too soon to tell exactly what the consequences will be.
“This next year or two of reproductive cycles are going to be really important because if animals have changed their behavior, and now all of a sudden the anthropause is released and all that pressure comes back, are those animals that have adapted or plants for that matter that have adapted to these changes, will they be able to readapt?” Dr. Strauss wondered.
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