What was wildlife doing while we lay low in lockdown?

Erin Adams and Dr Lizanne Roxburgh, EWT Conservation Planning and Science Unit, erina@ewt.org.za, lizanner@ewt.org.za

The world’s road networks are highly disturbed and fragmented areas that negatively affect many animals. Wildlife-vehicle collisions are one of the more visible effects of road, estimated to be the second-largest cause of human-related deaths in animals. One of the by-products of the Covid-19 pandemic was much lower levels of human activity related to lockdowns enforced in many countries to reduce the spread of the disease. This decrease in human activity has been named the “anthropause”, which was at its peak in April 2020. With the anthropause came a large decrease in vehicle traffic. The impact of the anthropause, particularly of decreased traffic, on species, was examined in a recent publication co-authored by EWT scientists*. With worldwide travel restrictions in full effect from April 2020, vehicle use dropped by over 50% in many countries. During this same period, scientists found a significant drop in wildlife-vehicle collisions, with as much as a 48% reduction recorded in some countries. The absence of traffic also likely brought about behavioural changes in wildlife and could have had various other ecological effects not yet documented. Some possible changes include animals being able to move more freely between fragmented landscape patches, increases in survival and population sizes, and less spreading of invasive species along roads (see figure below, from Perkins et al. 2022, which illustrates some of the possible impacts of a reduction in traffic).

Traffic noise was another aspect reviewed in this study. Researchers found that animals were less fearful with reduced traffic noise over the lockdown period. Furthermore, they noted that there were localised changes in animal distributions. For example, large animals were spotted moving through urban areas. The lowered volume of traffic noise also resulted in some birds changing their tune. For example, urban birds have been observed to alter the frequency of their song as they no longer had to compete with traffic noise. While lockdowns provided temporary relief, allowing wildlife to thrive again, human activity is recovering to pre-pandemic levels. This brief pause has allowed us to gain new insights into the impact of traffic on wildlife. The return of traffic highlights the need to have proper surveillance measures in place to help document, explain, and reduce the effects of roads on wildlife and critically evaluate the impacts of this widespread human activity on wildlife. *Perkins, S. E., Shilling, F., & Collinson, W. (2022). Anthropause opportunities: Experimental perturbation of road traffic and the potential effects on wildlife. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 192. **The EWT has a road watch app for you to record any roadkill sightings, helping us to identify hotspot areas and the species most at risk. Search for Road Watch on the Google Play Store to download the app!