The so-called anthropause, a topic of much discussion since the COVID-19 pandemic began, may have had less of an impact in the metro area than elsewhere, according to experts from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Loosely, the neologism anthropause means a worldwide drop in contemporary human activity, particularly travel, which itself has apparently changed the behavior of a vast range of beasts, birds and fish.
In response to an inquiry about that phenomenon and phrase – coined just last June in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution – Dan Zarlenga, media specialist with MDC’s St. Louis Regional Office, briefly surveyed the department’s wildlife and resource science staff.
“We haven’t done any focused research on the anthropause phenomenon,” Zarlenga reports, “but some of our staff did offer a few ideas, especially our state ornithologist regarding birders’ response to the pandemic in 2020.”
“I’d say the biggest impact we’ve seen is more interaction with wildlife over the past year, both in folks’ own yards as well as in parks and other shared public spaces,” says Erin Shank, urban wildlife biologist with the department.
That impact would logically follow from the fact that many area residents have spent more time at home than commuting or traveling due to lockdowns or pandemic-related concerns. Another MDC staffer, meanwhile, specifically looks skyward for changes wrought by the anthropause.
“There are many birding trends that shifted dramatically during the pandemic … , which I do think are super relevant, but I’m not aware of bird-behavior shifts in Missouri specifically,” says state ornithologist Sarah Kendrick. “Threatened beach-nesting species like snowy plovers did well due to a lack of beach-goers, but that’s out west.”
She also cites “some pretty awesome stats about birdwatching from eBird,” an online ornithological initiative “to gather … information in the form of checklists of birds, archive it and freely share it to power new data-driven approaches to science, conservation and education.”
In the Show-Me State, in specific, Kendrick adds that “eBird continues to grow in popularity, especially around our urban centers, providing lots of great opportunities to connect with our urban audiences who are already engaged in birdwatching and those who are new to it.”
During the lockdown, she continues with a laugh: “People really flocked to birdwatching.”
Regarding the metro area’s deer population this past year, Jason Isabelle, supervisor of the MDC’s cervid programs, responds: “Given current circumstances – state/cities not on official lockdown, more human activity than early in 2020, mass vaccinations on the horizon and its effect on human activity – I wouldn’t anticipate any significant effects of the pandemic on the behavior of wildlife here in the near future.”
Missouri Department of Conservation, St. Louis Regional Office, 2360 Highway D, St. Charles, 636-441-4554, mdc.mo.gov