Humans restricting animal movement to dangerous levels

The fox, red deer, and hare are becoming increasingly hemmed in by a human-dominated landscape, causing wild animal populations to become more isolated and prone to extinction.

Dr Adam Kane, of the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Science, in UCC, co-authored the study, which has just been published in the prestigious journal, Science.

Dr Kane notes that these animals can be blocked by roads, rivers, and Luas lines, and emphasises the need to make our human habitats more permeable for animals to traverse.

“The importance of the geographical movement of animals in the wild has long been documented. It is necessary for the animals to find food, water, mates and new habitats to live in,” says Dr Kane.

The team of more than 100 international scientists, led by Dr Marlee Tucker, of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University, Frankfurt has measured the effect on 57 types of land mammal.

These animals travel distances two to three times shorter in human-modified landscapes than they do in the wild.

“Our study looks at everything from hares to wild boars to elephants. The scientists in our team equipped individual animals with a GPS tracking device that recorded each animal’s location every hour for a period of at least two months,” said Dr Tucker.

Potentially, mammals move less because they have changed their behaviour in human-modified landscapes. Co-author, Dr Thomas Mueller, says landscape fragmentation and barriers created by infrastructure might limit mammalian movements.

“But humans don’t create physical barriers alone, and there are often incentives to stay put. In some of these areas, there might be more food available, so that animals do not need to cover such large distances,” said Dr Mueller. The authors of the report say that cutting short the natural movements of animals is not without its consequences.

Disease can spread more rapidly, if a sick individual doesn’t move far, and the movement of animals also allows seed dispersal from plants, which, in turn, feeds into the natural cycle of the environment.

Researchers say it is important that animals move, because, in moving, they carry out important ecological functions, like transporting nutrients and seeds between different areas.

Future work will look to see if this effect holds for other groups of animals. Dr Kane says: “Most birds won’t have the same obstacles as mammals. It would be fascinating to see if, and how, their movements change around our cities”.



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