The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our everyday lives, with many countries worldwide implementing sudden – and often drastic – lockdowns to lessen the spread of the disease. Countless people have taken to social media to document the unique ways they are reconnecting with nature, including numerous surprising animal encounters like pumas in downtown Santiago, Chile and coyotes in San Francisco. "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," wrote the authors of a new article published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Coyotes recently spotted in San Francisco.

The full impact this abrupt disappearance of humans in wild spaces has had on wildlife is not yet fully known. A recently published article outlines a strategy and a call to action for researchers to investigate how nature is responding to this temporary slowdown of human activity. To do this, the authors suggest "global-scale collaborative research projects" like the COVID-19 Bio-Logging Initiative, which uses tracking data to measure changes in animal movement and behaviour.

We are currently in what the researchers call an 'anthropause'  – a global-scale, temporary reduction of human activity, which could possibly have a profound effect on many animal species. Measuring that impact, the UK-led team says, will divulge different ways to "share our increasingly crowded planet."

While the global health crisis is absolutely shattering and the main priority should be tackling the hardships caused by COVID-19, this 'anthropause' has provided an invaluable opportunity to study our impact on the planet's wildlife.

“There is a really valuable research opportunity here, one that's been brought about by the most tragic circumstances.”

But how does one do that? Technology, of course. The scientists aim to track wildlife before, during and after the coronavirus lockdown in a bid to learn as much as possible from the unexpected absence of human beings in many wild spaces.

"There is a really valuable research opportunity here, one that's been brought about by the most tragic circumstances, but it's one we think we can't afford to miss," study lead Professor Christian Rutz from the University of St Andrews and president of the International Bio-Logging Society told BBC News. Bio-loggers are tracking devices that record animal movements and other behaviour depending on the tag’s settings. And as Rutz pointed out, while we have all been at home the tags have been at work. "All over the world, field biologists have fitted animals with miniature tracking devices. These bio-loggers provide a goldmine of information on animal movement and behaviour, which we can now tap to improve our understanding of human-wildlife interactions, with benefits for all."

Dr. Matthias-Claudio Loretto, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour in Germany, explained to that the study will also allow for research that was previously too complex to be carried out in 'normal conditions.' Studies involving human presence impacts traditionally compare protected and unprotected areas. "We will be able to investigate if the movements of animals in modern landscapes are predominantly affected by built structures, or by the presence of humans," said Loretto. "That is a big deal."

Tracking devices can be used to monitor changes in wildlife movements while humans activity is limited. Image © Michelle/Flickr

These research insights, and the special encounters people are having with animals, will hopefully inspire many towards a better coexistence with wildlife. But it isn’t all good news for wild species. The decrease of human activity can be detrimental in some areas – for example, there have been increases in poaching driven by poverty and the absence of ecotourism. And animals like rats, gulls or monkeys that have become reliant on our discarded food may struggle to survive if the lockdowns persist.

As the team pointed out in their paper: "Scientific knowledge gained during this devastating crisis will allow us to develop innovative strategies for sharing space on this increasingly crowded planet, with benefits for both wildlife and humans."

So, enjoy taking a closer look at the wild species living near your home. Take advantage of your local wild areas and continue to post about what animals you see! Every bit of information gleaned helps shines a spotlight on local wildlife connectivity.