Urban Ecology of the Pandemic

Researchers seeking to understand the impact of human activities on ecological processes can either compare two different places or observe how a particular place changes over time. Stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19 offered a unique opportunity to study these effects.

Our team is examining how the “anthropause” –the abrupt disruption of human mobility due to stay-at-home orders - influenced the behavior and range of wild animals in urban spaces. Using data from the citizen science platform iNaturalist, along with visualization and statistical tools, we are examining wild animal observations in 2019 and 2020 before, during, and after stay-at-home orders were in effect. We are considering how the number of iNaturalist observers, the number of sightings of several animal groups (e.g., birds and mammals), and the spatial distribution of those sightings changed in San Francisco, Austin, and Boston. Our findings indicate that there has been an observable increase in human-wildlife encounters, especially in higher density and wildland interface areas. We are also examining the social dimensions of this phenomenon to understand how changes in observer behavior may affect the frequency and distribution of citizen science data contributions.

Urban Ecology of the Pandemic is affiliated with the Spatial History Project.

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