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What is Anthropause?

Year 2020 brought deadly pandemic worldwide, mostly every country around the world went into lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19. 

The most tragic circumstances, this period of unusually reduced human mobility.

A UK-led team has launched an initiative to track wildlife before, during and after lockdown.
The researchers’ aim to study what they have called the “anthropause” – the global-scale, temporary slowdown in human activity, which is likely to have a deep impact on other species.

They outline “urgent steps” to allow scientists to learn as much as possible from the sudden absence of humans in many landscape- including that researchers have access and permission to carry out their work, and can gain access to information about human movement, as well as animal-tracking data.

Professor Christian Rutz from the University of St Andrews is president of the international bio-logging society. He pointed out that bio-loggers devices fitted to animals in order to record their movements and other behavior-have been collecting information in habits all over the world throughout the pandemic.

He told BBC news – there is really valuable research opportunity here, one that’s been brought about the most tragic circumstances, but it’s one we think we can’t afford to miss.

Usually, studies which try to examine the impact human presence and activity on wild animals are limited to comparing protected habitats to unprotected areas, or studying landscapes in the wake of a natural disaster.

However during lockdown we have this replicated around the globe – in different localities and for habits where some species have been fitted with tracking devices the whole time.

Researchers suggest be coined ‘anthropause’ may provide important insights into human- wildlife interactions in the twenty-first century.

Anecdotal observations indicate that many animals species are enjoying the newly afforded peace and quiet, while others surprisingly, seem to have come under increased pressure.

What did they (researchers) referring to ‘anthropause’?

Researchers noticed that people started referring to the lockdown period as the ‘Great Pause’, but felt that a more precise term would be helpful.

They propose ‘anthropause’ to refer specifically to a considerable global slowing of modern human activities, notably travel.

researchers said – we are aware that the correct prefix is ‘anthropo’ – (for human) but opted for the shortened form, which is easier to remember and use, and where the missing ‘po’ is till echoed in the pronunciation of ‘pause’.

Potential effects on wildlife

Social media abound with posts sharing surprising wildlife encounters during lockdown. As we gaze out of our windows, or relish a brief walk in the park, nature appears to have changed, especially in urban environments. There not only seem to be more animals than usual, but there are also some unexpected visitors.

People have reported sightings of pumas in downtown Santiago, Chile, of dolphins in untypically calm waters in the harbour of Trieste, Italy and of jackals in broad day light in urban parks in Tel Aviv, Israel. Hidden from view, animal’s army also start roaming more freely across the world’s oceans, following reductions in vessel traffic and noise-pollution levels.

Challenges for some species

However , for some species, the pandemic may have create new challenged for example, various urban-dwelling animals, like rat, gulls or monkeys, have become so reliant on food discarded or provided by humans that they may struggle to make ends meet under current conditions.

Interestingly, in some countries where lockdowns allows outdoor exercise, humans are flocking to green spaces in or near metropolitan areas. Potentially disturbing resident wildlife.

At same time, reduced human presence in more remote areas may potentially expose endangered species, such as rhinos or raptors, to increased risk of poaching or persecution.

Finally concerns have been raised that, in low income countries, economic hardship may force increased exploitation of natural resources.
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Unusual circumstances

As expanding human populations are transforming environments at unprecedented rates, understanding the linkages between human and animal behaviour is of critical importance. It is key to preserving global biodiversity, to maintaining the integrity of ecosystems, and to predicting global zoonosis and environmental change.

This knowledge is not only worth billions of dollars, but it is also vital for shaping a sustainable future. So far, however, researchers have had to rely predominantly on purely observational approaches.

Scientists have long sought to quantify how humans impact various aspects of animal biology, such as population levels, reproductive and mortality rates, movement and activity patterns, foraging behaviour, and stress responses Studies usually employ one of two main approaches — spatial comparisons or temporal analyses. The first involves comparing a species’ biology across areas that differ in human activity. Such differences occur, for example, along urban gradients, with increasing distance from coastlines, or between protected and unprotected areas.

The second approach documents how animals respond to temporal changes in human activity in a given locality, which may be short term.

The reduction in human mobility on land at the sea during the anthropause is unparalleled in recent history.

Lockdown effect have been drastic, sudden and widespread. Countries have also responded in broadly similar ways across large parts of the world, presenting invaluable replicates of this perturbation.

Mobilizing the community
General insights about animal responses — across different species, geographic regions, ecosystems, and levels of human activity — will only be possible if researchers pool their data and expertise. Several initiatives are busy preparing global-scale collaborative research projects to achieve exactly this.

What should be done?

Immediate action is required from a range of stakeholder group to ensure that we maximize the scientific insight that arises from this devastating pandemic. Here are some practical recommendation for the short-to mid-term.

First of all, it is paramount importance that field biologists can continue with data collection even under lockdown conditions, with appropriate safety precautions. The analyses we outlined above depend on high-quality data, which means a wide range of activities must carry on unhindered, such as instrumenting animals with bio-loggers, servicing of field equipment (for example, camera traps or receiver stations), and conducting routine surveys. Local authorities and research institutions should swiftly issue the required permits.
Researchers will be keen to resume fieldwork, but recommend they take a few extra steps. First, we suggest they keep detailed records of official restrictions on (and where possible, observed changes in) human mobility in their study areas, as this information may be difficult to reconstruct after the fact. 
While measures of human activity can be obtained from a variety of ‘big data’ sources, field observations are required for validation. Second, we encourage the leaders of local projects to get in touch as soon as possible with the larger collaborative initiatives that are being launched, to enable data standardization, exchange of expertise and coordination. Contribution to these initiatives does not preclude independent research outputs, but is essential for global-scale analyses.

Researchers seeking to measure human impact on wildlife often face a frustrating dilemma — they have high-quality data for their study animals, but only crude proxies of human activity. Studies have used land-cover data, proximity to roads or settlements, or fishing vessels’ radar signals, to make inferences about human disturbance
These metrics usually offer reasonable approximations, but in situ measurements — such as GPS tracking logs from mobile phones, traffic-flow measurements on land and at sea, and high-resolution satellite images — are required to capture the rapidly changing conditions under lockdown. We urge relevant stakeholders — including wildlife researchers, owners of high-quality human mobility data, experts on data confidentiality, and legislators — to form partnerships that facilitate investigations of anthropause impacts at the highest possible spatio-temporal resolution, in full compliance with the law.

This includes funds for field data collection, for data-management infrastructure and support, and for complex data analyses. We know that follow-on field studies are not normally considered a priority by funding agencies, but these are precisely the kinds of projects that can now contribute critically important data series. Field projects must continue data collection during the ups and downs in human mobility we will likely witness over the coming months and beyond.

Funds for human–wildlife interactions must come from separate parts of governmental budgets that are concerned more broadly with human and environmental health. Some governments have started working on such schemes.

At present, it is impossible to say which observations have been hyped by social media, and which expert predictions about global animal responses will hold true. But what is clear is that humans and wildlife have become more interdependent than ever before, and that now is the time to study this complex relationship. A quantitative scientific investigation is urgently needed.

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