Move over night owls: You’re getting company, at least according to the observations of a group of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley; and Boise State University.
Their studies seem to indicate an uptick in nocturnal behavior for 62 mammal species from 21 families and nine orders across six continents. That means these species are switching from their normal daylight forays to nighttime wanderings. The question that begs to be answered is “why?”
“Catastrophic losses in wildlife populations and habitats as a result of human activity are well documented, but the subtler ways in which we affect animal behavior are more difficult to detect and quantify,” said Kaitlyn Gaynor, the study’s lead author and a Berkeley doctoral candidate.
The study points out that as humans have expanded around the globe through direct inhabitation and habitat alteration, as well as exploration of wild areas through agriculture, hiking, hunting, ATV and snowmobiles, mountain biking, fishing and camping, wildlife has noticed. We are seen as a pinnacle predator and competitor, and wildlife wants to give us room.
The group collected the information through observation, remote cameras, GPS and radio collars and quantified the differences under differing degrees of human disturbance.
They have found that mammals were over 1.3 times more likely to shift to nighttime activity when confronted with human disturbance. This means that if an animal normally split its time evenly between night and day, human avoidance would cause it to spend 68 percent of its time active after dark. The study claims this shift holds true across carnivores and herbivores of at least 2 pounds and larger throughout the different types of disturbances.
“Animals responded strongly to all types of human disturbance, regardless of whether people actually posed a direct threat, suggesting that our presence alone is enough to disrupt their natural patterns of behavior,” Gaynor explained.
What does this all mean? It’s more of a question of whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. This move to the nightlife is apparently wildlife’s way of adapting to our presence and avoiding direct conflict. Could this be nature’s way of fulfilling the bumper sticker’s request to “coexist”?
Unfortunately, these changes fly in the face of eons of nature’s adaptation to its environment and they are happening very suddenly “¦ at least as far as natural history is concerned. This is that half-empty glass.
The researchers have these concerns: wildlife species making these adjustments could find their natural hunting and foraging behavior disrupted; predation by animals that had never before been a major threat could increase; and decreased fitness, reduced reproduction rates and lower survival of the young.
“We still have a lot to learn about the implications of altered activity patterns for the management of wildlife populations, interactions between species, and even human-induced evolution,” Gaynor said.
There is little we can do about mankind’s right to exist, but this study lends itself well to our re-examination of the importance of preserving and creating wild places. Wildlife shares that right.
“The hope of the future lies not in curbing the influence of human occupancy — it is already too late for that — but in creating a better understanding of the extent of that influence and a new ethic for its governance.” — Aldo Leopold, “Game Management”
Along the way:
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a contagious neurological disease affecting deer, elk and moose. It causes a spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death.
Last year, CWD was detected in 78 free-ranging deer in Pennsylvania. That’s more than three times the number documented in the state during 2016, when 25 were detected.
Seventy-five of the infected deer were found either within or near the boundary of Disease Management Area 2 (DMA 2) in south-central Pennsylvania. Three other cases were within or near DMA 3 in northwestern Pennsylvania. As a result, both of these disease management areas have been expanded.
Combined with DMA 4, which was created after CWD surfaced on a captive deer farm in Lancaster County, more than 5,895 square miles are contained within these areas. Hunters and residents within these zones are required to adhere to special rules meant to manage the risk.
Within these areas, it’s unlawful to feed deer and hunters are prohibited from transporting high-risk parts (generally the head and backbone) outside of the areas. The use or field possession of urine-based deer attractants are also prohibited.
Bryan Burhans, Pennsylvania Game Commission executive director, stressed the importance of complying with these rules.
“The escalating number of CWD detections “¦. should put all Pennsylvanians on guard to the threat CWD poses and the disease’s potential to have damaging impacts on Pennsylvania’s deer and deer-hunting tradition,” Burhans said.
Activities of special concern include the artificial feeding and other actions which induce deer to congregate. These situations can potentially spread CWD and put the state’s deer herd at risk.
Earlier this year, Pennsylvania established regulations that dictate that anyone who harvests deer anywhere in New York, Ohio, Maryland or West Virginia may no longer bring these deer into Pennsylvania without first removing the carcass parts with the highest risk of transmitting chronic wasting disease.
Senate Bill 257 is on its way to Gov. John Kasich’s desk to be signed into law. The law allows the creation of new discounted license packages in the form of three-, five- or 10-year hunting and fishing licenses or lifetime licenses; the removal of the three-year cap on apprentice hunting; the creation of the apprentice fur-taker permit; and the addition of a 4 percent writing fee on licenses.
The bill also creates a $10 Lake Erie nonresident fishing permit; treats nonresident youth the same as resident youth; extends turkey permits for the entire license year in which they were purchased; and makes fishing licenses valid for a year from the date of purchase.
Senate Bill 257 was passed thanks to the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and a coalition of Ohio sportsmen’s clubs who worked to improve the bill’s original form.
• Tomorrow: Trap shoot, 1 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• July 21: Sporting clays fundraiser for International Wildlife Crimestoppers, Elkhorn Lake Hunt Club, 4146 Klopfenstein Road, Bucyrus, registration at 7:30 a.m., shotgun start at 9 a.m., prizes to top three teams, Lewis Class prizes, raffles and shooting games. Entry for team of four is $800; youth team (17 and under) is $400; individual is $200. Contact Ron Ollis at 419-569-4074 or email@example.com. Self-registration and sponsorships available at www.wildlifecrimestoppers.org.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.