Human impact on animal movement can lead to big problems

Ecological connectivity, an abstract term with huge impact on nature. We know that connectivity is crucial for healthy ecosystems. If we would only have small ‘islands’ of nature within a ‘sea’ of urban areas, flora and fauna would be at great risk. Consequently, it would restrict animals to move from one place to the other, which can lead to big problems. As a result, human-wildlife conflict will rise, as we see with bears in Romania.

Please also read Bear-problems in Romania: who is to blame?

Human impact leads to less movement

Scientists estimate that humans have modified between 50 and 70 percent of the land on our planet. As a result, biodiversity and ecosystems changed. Not only do we lose habitats and biodiversity, for example with illegal logging in Poland, but we change animal behaviour. A new study reveals how human impact affects animal movement, on a long-time global scale.

The study tracked more than 800 animals of 57 species, including the wolverine (Gulo gulo), wolf (Canis lupus), brown bear (Ursus arctos), wildcat (Felis silvestris), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and wild boar (Sus scrofa). For each animal, the study determined the human impact. This includes buildings, roads, railways, waterways, light pollution, human population density, and farm lands. The results show that animals in areas with high human impact move 50-60% less than animal in wilder areas.

Impact of less movement

Moving animals are crucial for healthy ecosystems and species survival. Animals carry plant seeds with them, supporting plant dispersal. Predatory animals need to move to find enough food in their area. Populations need to mix for exchange of genes for healthy individuals. And diseases have less chance to wipe out entire isolated groups of animals if they mix with other groups.

The study thus shows that animals move less in areas with high human influence. Consequently, the effect on the long term will be problematic. It is another argument why we need to protect true Wilderness. Wilderness is the last resort where human impact on nature is at its lowest point. The European Wilderness Network hold Europe’s last prime Wilderness areas, and already grew to almost 40 areas. However, some of these areas are also surrounded by a ‘desert’ of urbanised land. Therefore, we will continues to identify, designate, steward and promote these and new Wilderness areas, get involved now.

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