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The impact of coronavirus travel restrictions on wildlife is a hot topic for scientists across the world. A University of Manitoba professor has started her own research on the subject and created a platform for like-minded ecologists to collaborate virtually.
Nicola Koper is a conservation biologist and a professor in the U of M's Natural Resources Institute. Recently, she launched the C19-Wild Research Group, a website that allows scientists to connect and share knowledge, techniques and findings on similar pandemic-related wildlife studies.
"I think that there is a real effort among researchers right now to avoid competing with each other," Koper said. "We can put our minds together and come up with better and more robust research than we ever could have done individually."
So far, the C19-Wild website includes projects on wildlife abundance at a Florida university campus since students were sent home, behaviour changes in urban animals during the pandemic using camera trap footage and the impact of travel restrictions on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems around the globe.
Koper is looking at data from a birding app to find out how birds across North America are responding to decreases in ground and air traffic.
"Traffic can kill animals directly, but the traffic can also produce exhaust and other pollutants," she said. "The noise from human activity can have really significant impacts as well — birds will actually sing their song on a different key in the presence of human noise."
She and a team of researchers from Environment and Climate Change Canada, Carleton University, University of Alberta and Arizona State University are comparing user supplied data from the eBird app between 2017 and 2019 with bird population numbers during the same period this year.
At the moment, Koper said it's hard to tell if more birds are out because there are fewer cars on the road and planes in the sky or if more people are out recording bird sightings because of the pandemic.
While less travel may have positive effects on bird populations, researchers are also interested in the negatives.
"One of the possible issues we might run into is that predators of birds nests, like foxes and cats, become much more active in some areas because they’re not avoiding roads themselves," she said.
Koper hopes the researchers involved in C19-Wild will be able to create a broad picture of how human traffic impacts wildlife around the world.
"Maybe we can use that knowledge to improve our ability to live... in a way that allows nature to coexist with humans," she said.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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