are cities habitats for wildlife?

are cities habitats for wildlife?

When studying the life sciences, there are a lot of in-depth concepts to take in. Depending on the the type of science you are studying, biology vs. evolution, for example, you may even have to learn a handful of mathematical formulas to fully appreciate the material. Here, we are just having a light-hearted overview of the life sciences, so a light serving of sativa will do just fine.

In my experience, sativa helps me to not get lost in wordy texts (reading that is not broken up by graphics/tables or formulas) and keep my mind sharp and able to take in all relevant information. Grinding about 60mg (less than 1/4 of a 1g bud) of sativa and smoking just a small pinch of that for over a 3-5hr period is perfect for maintaining a healthy attention span for learning.

Black Flower Science Co. does not claim to be a medical professional and does not offer recommendations as a substitute for medical advice. All advice and recommendations are based on personal experience of the benefits of medical marijuana. If you are experiencing severe or declining mental health symptoms, please seek the advice of a medical professional.

It was pre-pandemic times. My partner and I were leaving a bar in one of the busiest nocturnal zones in Mexico City, when I saw a weird cat dash across the street.

I was starting to decipher why the anatomy was off, with its unique short legs and an immense, bushy tail, when I suddenly realized it was not a cat, but a ringtail (Bassariscus astutus).

A simple question entered my mind: “What was this forest-dwelling creature doing in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world?”

The thought triggered more questions: How do animals adapt to our urban landscapes?  How are trophic webs (which are, essentially, the “food chains”) persisting despite traffic, air and noise pollution? And how do citizens perceive the presence of wildlife in cities?

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Although counterintuitive, cities and urban landscapes host wildlife and are the stage of many trophic webs and natural interactions. Perhaps pigeons and rats are obnoxious examples.

Yet, upon careful observation, we can be blown away with falcons and kestrels hovering above the skyline in New York hunting sparrows; pumas visiting Californian cities at night to prey on stray dogs; and racoons and black bears getting in trouble for being unwelcomed trash-loving guests in Monterrey, Mexico and Toronto, Canada.

Animals adapt to human-dominated landscapes when we are not on the scene. For example, with the lockdown measures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Chilean researchers recorded an unusual increase in sightings of rare carnivores in urban forests, campuses, suburbs, and per-urban areas.

Using camera traps, the researchers detected species such as the elusive güiña cat (Leopardus guigna) and the endangered southern river otter (Lontra provocax).

This suggests that, in low human-density zones (during lockdown or in quiet neighbourhoods) or timeframes (at night or early dawn), wildlife will use urban landscapes as either primary or secondary habitat.

Photo by Colton Jones on Unsplash

Food availability is abundant in cities, with gardens, planted shrubs, a dense population of rats and sparrows, unattended pets and open trash cans, and more. All of this nurtures trophic web interactions and welcomes the settlement of wildlife populations.

Most wildlife encounters in cities go unnoticed or are simply cheered with a picture. However, these interactions are not always neutral or positive and can turn into challenging situations that put the survival of wildlife and human wellbeing at stake.

Property loss or damage, pet loss, disease transmission, physical injury, and human or animal fatalities (Richardson et al., 2020; Treves et al., 2006), are a few examples of these interactions’ negative outcomes.

Although wildlife presence plays a part in this, it is human behaviour and values what determines the outcomes of these interactions. For example, some cities are keen to tolerating coyotes, if they do not endanger human safety (Hunold and Mazuchowski 2020).

Coyotes’ presence can benefit humans because they predate on rodents and for their aesthetic and cultural value. (Cultural value is often expressed as biophilia – human admiration for other forms of life – and positive feelings associated to wildlife sightings, art inspiration, and photography)

Coyotes, as any other animal, can habituate to human presence: our traffic, noise, and light pollution, primarily. If following this acclimatization coyotes become less wary and people respond in a friendly manner, feeding wildlife, for example, friendship can easily turn to conflict.

Photo by Jessica Wille on Unsplash

Bold coyotes can bite small children who are taught it is okay to be close to or feed coyotes (although this is quite rare, with only 159 recorded bites between 1960-2006, 10 of them from rabid coyotes); and in extreme scenarios, rabid animals can pose a severe threat to human safety.

As seen in the example above, our actions, regardless of our good intentions towards animals, can shape how society perceives and manages urban wildlife.

For people in cities who feel positively about these interactions, it is important to remember that it is best to allow wild animals to keep their wildness, and avoid feeding them or allowing them to feel comfortable around us.

This way, we can reduce the potential for conflict and increase the general public tolerance to their presence.

Learning how human-dominated landscapes function as habitats to wildlife is still a new endeavour in ecology. Thus far, this branch of study (“urban ecology”) is full of more questions than answers regarding urban trophic webs, animal activities patterns in noisy cities, and the urban cases of human-wildlife coexistence.

Citizen science projects, such as wildlife observation entries in Naturalist, are giving us a new understanding of our cities as ecosystems and biodiversity habitats, with a growing list of raptors, reptiles, elusive mammals, and everything in-between dwelling in our neighborhoods.


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