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How COVID-19 restrictions are affecting wildlife populations

Last Updated May 24, 2020 at 12:31 pm CST

WINNIPEG (CITYNEWS) –The University of Manitoba has launched a new initiative to coordinate biologists across the world who hope to understand the effects of COVID-19 restrictions on wildlife populations.

Humans migrated indoors when COVID-19 struck, allowing wildlife to inhabit places they normally wouldn’t. The University of Manitoba saw this as an opportunity to study that wildlife, and they aren’t alone.

“Hopefully in the long run, once everything gets back to normal, we’ll remember how much joy and pleasure we get out of sharing our urban centres with wildlife around us,” said Dr. Nicola Koper, professor of conservation biology at the University of Manitoba.

“Studying impacts of human noise… As soon as COVID travel restrictions came in I became really interested in whether it would help us understand how noise and other human disturbances (impact) birds.”

As the University of Manitoba ramped up studies into this field, Dr. Koper noticed other researchers doing the same across the globe. That’s why they created C19-Wild Research Group.

Koper hopes it can be a one-stop shop for researchers to learn from each other, so they can make the most of their time during this pandemic studying the effects of reduced human interaction on wildlife.

“We do worry that there are some sensitive species that generally avoid human areas because of the noise,” said Koper. “As we start to ramp up our activity, maybe this has negative impacts on those individuals that realize they chose a nest spot that actually isn’t good for them after all.”

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Koper says exotic and invasive species that aren’t historically found in North America may also explore further now that they have less threats like cars or pedestrian traffic. They may also prey on wildlife they normally wouldn’t reach.

“There are also potential positives,” said Koper. “Maybe the decreased traffic also will decrease mortality of wildlife, so we really think it’s important to study the impact in the long run.”

Koper is asking all researchers to contact her over the C19-Wild website. She doesn’t expect solid results from these studies until at least the end of June.