It may be easier than ever to see wildlife on campus as more animals venture out of hiding following the suspension of face-to-face classes.
Ted Stankowich, associate professor of biological sciences, said that the lack of people on campus encourages wildlife to come out more frequently and more so during the day when student foot traffic would typically be at its highest.
“Wildlife on campus, and in most urban areas for that matter, I think are coming out more often and probably more during the daytime,” Stankowich said. “I think you will see more wildlife on campus than before during this time.”
This includes species such as the bushy-tailed fox squirrel, one of the most ubiquitous animals found on campus, and even the habitually reclusive coyote.
“You’re probably more likely to see coyotes on campus now as well, possibly even during daylight hours,” Stankowich said.
The lack of vehicles driving through campus also seem to have an effect on wildlife, with reports of students who have recently been to campus witnessing squirrels leisurely stopping on the street.
Other students said that squirrels are behaving the same as usual.
“I see them often doing what they always do,” said Fernando Dehonor, a geology graduate student. “There is no real noticeable change in their behavior as locals still walk around campus with their dogs, jogging, riding bikes, etc.”
Despite the suspension of face-to-face classes, the CSULB Mammal Lab is continuing to collect data on its wildlife cameras via its long-term wildlife monitoring program in Orange County. The lab, run by Stankowich, studies the evolution and ecology of predator-prey interactions.
“We’re planning to combine our data with partners with similar programs all over the country to look at how wildlife activity is changing during COVID-19 compared to the same months in previous years,” Stankowich said. “It will be an interesting opportunity for a large-scale natural experiment.”
The Lab is a partner organization in the Urban Wildlife Information Network based out of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. All partners maintain a line of wildlife monitoring cameras that go from urban areas to rural areas and share data to conduct research projects on the responses of wildlife to urbanization.
“About half of the UWIN partners have been able to keep their cameras running during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, so we’re looking forward to conducting a large collaborative study of how these changes in human activity are affecting wildlife behavior,” Stankowich said.
As for what might happen to wildlife on campus after classes resume, Stankowich said that species like squirrels will quickly get used to large numbers of people once more.
“One thing you might see is that the squirrels become less habituated to humans during this time,” Stankowich said. “When students return, they might not be as willing to come close to humans at least in the short term, but they will certainly return to their old habits somewhat quickly.”