A laboratory in the garden: this is how wild animals in the city interact while there are no humans

Avoid or compete, eat or be eaten, enjoy or cooperate: wildlife communities are structured around the interactions that occur when they share space.

THE urban environments They represent a special case, as human presence and influence can substantially alter the rules of the ecological game.

How are wild carnivores related in a city? Did the quarantine affect your behavior?

To answer these questions, a team of scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoological and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) installed around 150 cameras in the private gardens of different houses in Berlin, with the collaboration and permission of their neighbors, in order to analyze the behavior of foxes, raccoons, martens and cats.

About 150 cameras were installed in the Berlin gardens to analyze the behavior of foxes, raccoons, minks and cats.

The time interval analyzed was from fall 2018 to fall 2020. The results are presented in the journal Journal of Animal Ecology.

The research team divided the city of Berlin into a grid, composed of 300 cells With two square kilometers on each side and over five periods of one month each, the research team collected and analyzed thousands of images of the city’s wild activity.

The analysis is part of the citizen project “wildlife researchers“, led by Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, scientist from Leibniz-IZW (Germany).

wildlife in the city gardens

THE city ​​gardens as a field of study due to its ability to attract and scare off wild animals, acting doubly as a potential source of snack and meeting point, both with humans and domestic animals.

The researchers combined the photos taken by the cameras with available information about the size of the gardens, the amount of vegetation, potential sources of snack, the height of the fence and the density of the population.

In each sample collection period, the cameras captured around 2,200 and 3,000 cats (felis silvestris catus), 300 to 1200 foxes commonVulpes Vulpes), between 200 and 1000 raccoons (Procyon lotor) and about 50 and 300 marten (tuesday was) They also captured several photos of other mammals not relevant to the study.

“We were interested in how highly flexible and adaptable carnivorous species interact space-time in human-dominated environments,” he explains. Julie Louvrier, gives Berlin Technical University (Germany) and first signatory of the study.

“This means that we wanted to know if they frequent the same places and, if so, if they are avoided among species by going at different times of day or night, for example”, continues the researcher.

Seasons of the year and quarantine caused by the pandemic had a significant influence on the frequency with which species were recorded.

The research group found that seasons of the year and quarantine caused by the pandemic greatly influenced the frequency with which the species were recorded.

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They also found that the autumn it’s a much busier season for Berlin’s foxes, raccoons, martens and cats, as opposed to spring. During mobility restrictions, Berliners used their gardens more than usual during the day, forcing the fauna to be more night.

At the same time, the presence of foxes, martens and raccoons in the gardens increased during the quarantine periods, probably due to less human presence in the urban space.

they avoid the human being

Although all wild carnivore species are somewhat used to the presence of humans, they avoid encounters with them by concentrating their movements at night, the period of least activity in the city.

The presence of foxes, raccoons and martens has similarly changed. A greater number of foxes indicated a greater number of raccoons and martens, and vice versa, as they use the same resources as in the urban environment.

Researchers found that animals they avoid each other on small time scales. There is a delay between consecutive detections of different species, which indicates a temporal segregation of the same space.

Cats exercise their dominance

House cats are a special case: a greater presence of cats meant more raccoon detections, as these animals would use the presence of house cats as a potential indicator of leftover cat food.

On the other hand, minks and foxes were not more likely to appear when there were cats. This indicates a hierarchy of the four species, among which the cat is the dominant one.

This statement holds true in light of another interesting finding from the study: cats do not seem to avoid other animals at any time of day, although their body mass – considered an indicator of dominance – is usually lower than that of foxes and raccoons.

“Humans impose strong selective forces on wild species, thus modifying their behavior and way of life. The quarantine was a blessing as it gave us the opportunity to study what our wild neighbors do when people suddenly disappear from urban space,” emphasizes Kramer-Schadt.

“Our research sheds some light on the rules that govern interactions in a community of medium-sized carnivores that live in an urban environment,” concludes Louvrier.

Although there are several factors that influence these interaction patterns, both spatially and temporally, one thing is certain: domestic animals They exert their dominance over the local fauna of Berlin, even over species that are relatively well adapted to the urban environment.

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