SLU news

Wildlife responses to the Covid-19 pandemic

Published: 04 April 2024
Roe deer in garden.

Covid-19 not only changed human behaviors but also those of wildlife. When communities shut down and people flocked to nature, wildlife became less active there. As restrictions were lifted and cities reopened, wildlife also returned there, particularly at night. Large carnivores were the most sensitive and adapted the most to avoid humans. This is shown in a study involving 163 mammal species in 21 countries, which includes a citizen science project based in northern Sweden from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).

Wildlife constantly adapt to survive. Some animals perceive humans as a threat while others seek shelter and food in our vicinity. How different animals react to human presence also depends on whether they encounter us in nature or in urban environments.

In a study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, 221 researchers analyzed camera-trap images from 102 different research projects in 21 countries. The researchers studied the amount and timing of mammal activity during periods of low and high human activity.

"Learning more about how different animals react to human activity can help us coexist," says Tim Hofmeester, a researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU, and co-author of the study.

Citizen scientists contributed

SLU contributed to the study with data from a citizen science project called "Meet Your Wild Neighbors" which took place during the pandemic. Over 100 participants in Umeå municipality borrowed wildlife cameras from SLU to find out which animals visited their properties.

Five species were included in the analysis: mountain hare, roe deer, moose, red fox, and badger. Of these, mountain hare and roe deer showed increased activity during the parts of the pandemic when human activity was highest. The other species showed no clear patterns. Data on human activity were obtained from the County Administrative Board and the Public Health Agency of Sweden.

"The results align well with the patterns we observed globally where many wild animals, especially herbivores like deer and moose, were more active during periods of higher human activity. Large carnivores, on the other hand, were less active during the same periods," says Tim Hofmeester.


Scientific article

Burton, A. C. et al. (2024). Mammal responses to global changes in human activity vary by trophic group and landscape. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1-12.