Hiking in the Yukon. Image: Pat Morrow
Top actions | ... | ...

Sign Up For Email News Updates

Be the first to know about news, events and successes.

"I left inspired to protect the special places in my own backyard."
Sara Renner, Y2Y supporter

Read More

Research shows human impact restricts wildlife movements

A new paper published this week in the journal Science demonstrates that mammals move less in human-modified landscapes. In fact, mammals move distances two to three times shorter on average in these landscapes than they do in more wild landscapes.

A new paper published this week in the journal Science demonstrates that mammals move less in human-modified landscapes. In fact, mammals move distances two to three times shorter on average in these landscapes than they do in more wild landscapes.

These findings are the first time this topic has been examined at a global scale and for many different species at once. The authors highlight these results may have far reaching consequences for mammal populations and ecosystems as well as society. Most mammals are on the move every day while searching for food, mates or shelter. Some larger mammals like elk generally move longer distances, while smaller mammals, such as hares, usually cover shorter distances.

A team led by biologist Dr. Marlee Tucker, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University Frankfurt, has shown that the extent of these movements is significantly reduced compared to those in wilder, natural areas.

In this study, Tucker and 114 coauthors from various institutions collated movement data from 803 individuals across 57 mammal species from around the globe.To do this they used Movebank, a data portal that archives movement data from researchers across the world.

Individual animals equipped with a GPS tracking device recorded movements for a period of two months. The researchers then compared these data to the human footprint index of the areas that the animals were moving. The index measures how much an area has been changed by human activities such as infrastructure, settlements or agriculture.

Among the coauthors is Dr. Mark Hebblewhite, professor for University of Montana’s wildlife biology program. Hebblewhite is also a board member for Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), one of the world’s first large landscape conservation projects. Hebblewhite says mammals might move less because they have changed their behaviour in human-modified landscapes.

In Canada, this has implications for protected areas such as Banff National Park, as well as areas with greater human use and those impacts.

“In Banff National Park, our data show species like wolves and elk share the same movement patterns as other species across the globe, with reduced movements in areas of high human development such as the Bow Valley as compared to wilder places like backcountry areas of Banff and the adjacent eastern slopes,” says Hebblewhite. “In our case, the reasons for these changes could be loss of migratory behaviour due to elk habituation, difficulty for wolves navigating dense road networks, railways and town sites in the Bow Valley, and loss of access to food.”

Although not involved in the study, Dr. Aerin Jacob, conservation scientist at Y2Y, says this research shows why it is important to help animals thrive in more developed areas.

“The implications of mammals moving less range from inbreeding and lower reproduction to potential increases in human-wildlife conflict,” she says. “Taking connectivity and co-existence, as well as land-use planning that balances human uses and activities with the needs of wildlife into account, can help ensure we have as little impact as possible on animal movement.”

-30-