Contributed by Marielle Grenade-Willis
There’s no doubt that human infrastructure and landscape development has impacted nonhuman animals’ various capabilities. Think flocks of opportunistic pigeons eating crumbs in a town square, mice making a warm nest in a car engine on a winter’s day, or raccoons giving birth to cubs in a chimney flue. The real question though is whether these anthropogenic changes to the environment are inherently beneficial or harmful to other species, and how has such environmental modification impacted an animal’s knack for adaptability?
In some instances, things appear advantageous such as in the case of urban squirrels who seem to be fatter and less stressed out than their rural counterparts, or New York City rats who have formed distinct genetic colonies based on where they live. However, other species don’t seem to get the benefit of the doubt as much like coyotes whose presence in cities has been continuously misunderstood and criminalized for various incidences like pet attacks.
But what about the influence of humanity’s modern advancements on the social structure and bonds of group-affiliated animals? Researchers decided to study this very thing in hyaena clans in South Africa’s Kruger National Park: Social Networks of Spotted Hyaenas_Belton et al._2017. What they found was that:
“The clans that experienced the highest human activity had less dense social networks than the other clans, indicating that animals in this clan were interacting less with group members. Conversely, we observed the opposite for path length where the clan with the least amount of human activity and infrastructure had shorter path lengths.”
In laymen’s terms, the scientists concluded that human activities and their affiliated resources may contribute to weaker social cohesion between clan members compared to clans that did not have as much contact with humans. Repeatedly, we must ask ourselves how our actions affect the welfare of our planet and its fellow creatures. How does our modernity influence nonhuman animals’ capabilities?