20
views
0
recommends
+1 Recommend
1 collections
    0
    shares
      • Record: found
      • Abstract: not found
      • Article: not found

      COVID-19 lockdown allows researchers to quantify the effects of human activity on wildlife

      Read this article at

      ScienceOpenPublisherPubMed
      Bookmark
          There is no author summary for this article yet. Authors can add summaries to their articles on ScienceOpen to make them more accessible to a non-specialist audience.

          Related collections

          Most cited references8

          • Record: found
          • Abstract: not found
          • Article: not found

          Ecology. Whose conservation?

            Bookmark
            • Record: found
            • Abstract: found
            • Article: found
            Is Open Access

            Mobile phone data for informing public health actions across the COVID-19 pandemic life cycle

            The coronavirus 2019–2020 pandemic (COVID-19) poses unprecedented challenges for governments and societies around the world ( 1 ). Nonpharmaceutical interventions have proven to be critical for delaying and containing the COVID-19 pandemic ( 2 – 6 ). These include testing and tracing, bans on large gatherings, nonessential business and school and university closures, international and domestic mobility restrictions and physical isolation, and total lockdowns of regions and countries. Decision-making and evaluation or such interventions during all stages of the pandemic life cycle require specific, reliable, and timely data not only about infections but also about human behavior, especially mobility and physical copresence. We argue that mobile phone data, when used properly and carefully, represents a critical arsenal of tools for supporting public health actions across early-, middle-, and late-stage phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. Seminal work on human mobility has shown that aggregate and (pseudo-)anonymized mobile phone data can assist the modeling of the geographical spread of epidemics ( 7 – 11 ). Thus, researchers and governments have started to collaborate with private companies, most notably mobile network operators and location intelligence companies, to estimate the effectiveness of control measures in a number of countries, including Austria, Belgium, Chile, China, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States ( 12 – 21 ). There is, however, little coordination or information exchange between these national or even regional initiatives ( 22 ). Although ad hoc mechanisms leveraging mobile phone data can be effectively (but not easily) developed at the local or national level, regional or even global collaborations seem to be much more difficult given the number of actors, the range of interests and priorities, the variety of legislations concerned, and the need to protect civil liberties. The global scale and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic highlight the need for a more harmonized or coordinated approach. In the following sections, we outline the ways in which different types of mobile phone data can help to better target and design measures to contain and slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. We identify the key reasons why this is not happening on a much broader scale, and we give recommendations on how to make mobile phone data work against the virus. HOW CAN MOBILE PHONE DATA HELP TO TACKLE THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC? Passively generated mobile phone data have emerged as a potentially valuable data source to infer human mobility and social interactions. Call detail records (CDRs) are arguably the most researched type of mobile data in this context. CDRs are collected by mobile operators for billing purposes. Each record contains information about the time and the cell tower that the phone was connected to when the interaction took place. CDRs are event-driven records: In other words, the record only exists if the phone is actively in use. Additional information includes “sightings data” obtained when a phone is seen on a network. There are, however, other types of mobile phone data used to study human mobility behaviors and interactions. X data records or network probes, can be thought as metadata about the phone’s data channel, capturing background actions of apps and the network. Routine information including highly accurate location data is also collected through mobile phone applications (apps) at a large scale by location intelligence companies ( 23 ) or by ad hoc apps ( 24 , 25 ). In addition, proximity between mobile phone users can be detected via Bluetooth functionality on smartphones. Each of these data types requires different processing frameworks and raise complex ethical and political concerns that are discussed in this paper. First, we explore the value and contribution of mobile phone data in analytical efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Government and public health authorities broadly raise questions in at least four critical areas of inquiries for which the use of mobile phone data is relevant. First, situational awareness questions seek to develop an understanding of the dynamic environment of the pandemic. Mobile phone data can provide access to previously unavailable population estimates and mobility information to enable stakeholders across sectors better understand COVID-19 trends and geographic distribution. Second, cause-and-effect questions seek to help identify the key mechanisms and consequences of implementing different measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. They aim to establish which variables make a difference for a problem and whether further issues might be caused. Third, predictive analysis seeks to identify the likelihood of future outcomes and could, for example, leverage real-time population counts and mobility data to enable predictive capabilities and allow stakeholders to assess future risks, needs, and opportunities. Finally, impact assessments aim to determine which, whether, and how various interventions affect the spread of COVID-19 and require data to identify the obstacles hampering the achievement of certain objectives or the success of particular interventions. Table 1 provides specific examples of questions by areas of inquiry. The relevance and specific questions raised as part of these areas of inquiry differ at various stages of the outbreak, but mobile phone data provide value throughout the epidemiological cycle, shown in Fig. 1. Table 1 Examples of questions by areas of inquiry. Situational awareness Cause and effect • What are the most commonmobility flows within andbetween COVID-19–affectedcities and regions? • What are variables thatdetermine the success of socialdistancing approaches? • Which areas are spreading theepidemics acting as origin nodesin a mobility network and thuscould be placed under mobilityrestrictions? • How do local mobility patternsaffect the burden on themedical system? • Are people continuing to travelor congregate after socialdistancing and travel restrictionswere put into place? • Are business’ social distancingrecommendations resulting inmore workers working fromhome? • Are there hotspots at higher riskof contamination (due to ahigher level of mobility andhigher concentration ofpopulation)? • In what sectors are peopleworking most from home? • What are the key entry points,locations, and movements ofroamers or tourists? • What are the social andeconomic consequences ofmovement restrictionmeasures? Predictive analysis Impact • How are certain human mobilitypatterns likely to affect thespread of the coronavirus? Andwhat is the likely spread ofCOVID-19, based on existingdisease models and up-to-datemobility data? • How have travel restrictionsaffected human mobilitybehavior and likely diseasetransmission? • What are the likely effects ofmobility restrictions onchildren’s education outcomes? • What is the potential of variousrestriction measures to avertinfection cases and save lives? • What are likely to be theeconomic consequences ofrestricted mobility forbusinesses? • What is the effect of mandatorysocial distancing measures,including closure of schools? • How has the dissemination ofpublic safety information andvoluntary guidance affectedhuman mobility behavior anddisease spread? Fig. 1 Pandemic intervals as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization [based on ( 52 )]. In the early recognition and initiation phase of the pandemic, responders focus on situational analysis and the fast detection of infected cases and their contacts. Research has shown that quarantine measures of infected individuals and their family members, combined with surveillance and standard testing procedures, are effective as control measures in the early stages of the pandemic ( 26 ). Individual mobility and contact (close proximity) data offer information about infected individuals, their locations, and social network. Contact (close proximity) data can be collected through mobile apps ( 24 , 27 ), interviews, or surveys ( 28 ). During the acceleration phase, when community transmission reaches exponential levels, the focus is on interventions for containment, which typically involve social contact and mobility restrictions. At this stage, aggregated mobile phone data are valuable to assess the efficacy of implemented policies through the monitoring of mobility between and within affected municipalities. Mobility information also contributes to the building of more accurate epidemiological models that can explain and anticipate the spread of the disease, as shown for H1N1 flu outbreaks ( 29 ). These models, in turn, can inform the mobilization of resources (e.g., respirators and intensive care units). Last, during the deceleration and preparation phases, as the peak of infections is reached, restrictions will likely be lifted ( 30 ). Continued situational monitoring will be important as the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to come in waves ( 4 , 31 ). Near real-time data on mobility and hotspots will be important to understand how lifting and reestablishing various measures translate into behavior, especially to find the optimal combination of measures at the right time (e.g., general mobility restrictions, school closures, and banning of large gatherings), and to balance these restrictions with aspects of economic vitality. After the pandemic has subsided, mobile data will be helpful for post hoc analysis of the impact of different interventions on the progression of the disease and cost-benefit analysis of mobility restrictions. During this phase, digital contact-tracing technologies might be deployed, such as the Korean smartphone app Corona 100m ( 32 ) and the Singaporean smartphone app TraceTogether ( 33 ), that aim at minimizing the spread of a disease as mobility restrictions are lifted. Along this line, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and collaborators are working on Private Kit: Safe Paths ( 25 ), an open-source and privacy-first contact-tracing technology that provides individuals with information on their proximity with diagnosed COVID-19 carriers, using Global Positioning System (GPS) and Bluetooth data. Similarly, several European universities, research centers, and companies have joined forces around PEPP-PT [Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing ( 34 )], a collaboration on privacy-preserving, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)–compliant contact tracing. Along this effort, a consortium of research institutions, led by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), has developed an open Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing protocol and implementation using Bluetooth low-energy functionality on smartphones, ensuring that personal data and computation stay entirely on an individuals’ phones ( 35 ). Recently, Apple and Google have released a joint announcement ( 36 ) describing their system to support Bluetooth-based privacy-preserving proximity tracing across iOS and Android smartphones. As a part of the European Commission recommendation of a coordinated approach to support the gradual lifting of lockdown measures ( 37 ), European Union (EU) member states, supported by the Commission, have developed a toolbox for the development and usage of contact tracing apps, fully compliant with EU rules ( 38 ). SPECIFIC METRICS FOR DATA-SUPPORTED DECISIONS Researchers and practitioners have developed a variety of aggregated metrics using mobile phone data that can help fill gaps in information needed to respond to COVID-19 and address uncertainties regarding mobility and behaviors. Origin-destination (OD) matrices are especially useful in the first epidemiological phases, where the focus is to assess the mobility of the population. The number of people moving between two different areas daily can be computed from the mobile network data, and it can be considered a proxy of human mobility. The geographic areas of interest might be zip codes, municipalities, provinces, or even regions. These mobility flows are compared to those during a reference period to assess the reduction in mobility due to nonpharmaceutical interventions. In particular, they are useful to monitor the impact of different social and mobility contention measures and to identify regions where the measures might not be effective or followed by the population. Moreover, these flows can inform spatially explicit disease transmission models to evaluate the potential benefit of such reductions. Dwell estimations and hotspots are estimates of particularly high concentration of people in an area, which can be favorable to the transmission of the virus. These metrics are typically constructed within a municipality by dividing the city into grids or neighborhoods ( 39 ). The estimated number of people in each geographical unit can be computed with different time granularities (e.g., 15 min, 60 min, and 24 hours). Contact matrices estimate the number and intensity of the face-to-face interactions people have in a day. They are typically computed by age groups. These matrices have been shown to be extremely useful to assess and determine the decrease of the reproduction number of the virus ( 6 ). However, it is still challenging to estimate face-to-face interactions from colocation and mobility data ( 40 ). Contact-tracing apps can then be used to identify close contacts of those infected with the virus. Amount of time spent at home, at work, or other locations are estimates of the individual percentage of time spent at home/work/other locations (e.g., public parks, malls, and shops), which can be useful to assess the local compliance with countermeasures adopted by governments. The home and work locations need to be computed in a period of time before the deployment of mobility restrictions measures. The percentage of time spent in each location needs to be computed for people who do not move during this time. Variations of the time spent on different locations are generally computed on an individual basis and then spatially aggregated at a zip code, municipality, city, or region level. Although there is still little information about the age-specific susceptibility to COVID-19 infection, it is clear that age is an important risk factor for COVID-19 severity. We highlight, therefore, the importance of estimating the metrics mentioned above by age groups ( 6 ). Figure 2 shows an example of such metrics. Fig. 2 Extraction of aggregated metrics from mobile phone data. (A) Raw data representing 1-day mobility of two users. In this example, the area B is a hotspot, as it shows a high concentration of people. (B) OD matrix of five different areas, counting the number of trips from one area (rows) to another area (columns). (C) Contact matrix counting the number of potential face-to-face interactions between age groups. (D) Percentage of time spent at home, work, and other locations. WHY IS THE USE OF MOBILE PHONE DATA NOT WIDESPREAD, OR A STANDARD, IN TACKLING EPIDEMICS? The use of mobile phone data for tackling the COVID-19 pandemic has gained attention but remains relatively scarce. Although local alliances have been formed, internationally concerted action is missing, both in terms of coordination and information exchange ( 22 ). In part, this is the result of a failure to institutionalize past experiences. During the 2014–2016 Ebola virus outbreak, several pilot or one-off activities were initiated. However, there was no transition to “business as usual” in terms of standardized procedures to leverage mobile phone data or establish mechanisms for “data readiness” in the country contexts ( 41 , 42 ). Technology has evolved with various platforms offering enhanced and secured access and analysis of mobile data, including for humanitarian and development use cases [e.g., Open Algorithms for Better Decisions Project ( 43 ) and Flowkit ( 44 )]. Furthermore, high-level meetings have been held [e.g., the European Commission’s business-to-government (B2G) data sharing high-level expert group], data analysis and sharing initiatives have shown promising results, yet the use of metrics and insights derived from mobile phone data by governments and local authorities is still minimal today ( 43 ). Several factors likely explain this “implementation” gap. First, governments and public authorities frequently are unaware and/or lack a “digital mindset” and capacity needed for both for processing information that often is complex and requires multidisciplinary expertise (e.g., mixing location and health data and specialized modeling) and for establishing the necessary interdisciplinary teams and collaborations. Many government units are understaffed and sometimes also lack technological equipment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most authorities are overwhelmed by the multiplicity and simultaneity of requests; as they have never been confronted with such a crisis, there are few predefined procedures and guides, so targeted and preventive action is quickly abandoned for mass actions. These problems are exacerbated at local levels of governments (e.g., towns and counties), which are precisely the authorities doing the frontline work in most situations. In addition, many public authorities and decision-makers are not aware of the value that mobile phone data would provide for decision-making and are often used to make decisions without knowing the full facts and under conditions of uncertainty. Second, despite substantial efforts, access to data remains a challenge. Most companies, including mobile network operators, tend to be very reluctant to make data available—even aggregated and anonymized—to researchers and/or governments. Apart from data protection issues, such data are also seen and used as commercial assets, thus limiting the potential use for humanitarian goals if there are no sustainable models to support operational systems. One should also be aware that not all mobile network operators in the world are equal in terms of data maturity. Some are actively sharing data as a business, while others have hardly started to collect and use data. Third, the use of mobile phone data raises legitimate public concerns about privacy, data protection, and civil liberties. Governments in China, South Korea, Israel, and elsewhere have openly accessed and used personal smartphone app data for tracking individual movements and notifying individuals. However, in other regions, such as in Europe, both national and regional legal regulations limit such use (especially the EU law on data protection and privacy known as the GDPR). Furthermore, around the world, public opinion surveys, social media, and a broad range of civil society actors including consumer groups and human rights organizations have raised legitimate concerns around the ethics, potential loss of privacy, and long-term impact on civil liberties resulting from the use of individual mobile data to monitor COVID-19. Control of the pandemic requires control of people—including their mobility and other behaviors. A key concern is that the pandemic is used to create and legitimize surveillance tools used by government and technology companies that are likely to persist beyond the emergency. Such tools and enhanced access to data may be used for purposes such as law enforcement by the government or hypertargeting by the private sector. Such an increase in government and industry power and the absence of checks and balance is harmful in any democratic state. The consequences may be even more devastating in less democratic states that routinely target and oppress minorities, vulnerable groups, and other populations of concern. Fourth, researchers and technologists frequently fail to articulate their findings in clear, actionable terms that respond to practical political and technical questions. Researchers and domain experts tend to define the scope and direction of analytical problems from their perspective and not necessarily from the perspective of governments’ needs. Critical decisions have to be taken, while key results are often published in scientific journals and in jargon that are not easily accessible to outsiders, including government workers and policy makers. Last, there is little political will and resources invested to support preparedness for immediate and rapid action. On country levels, there are too few latent and standing mixed teams, composed of (i) representatives of governments and public authorities, (ii) mobile network operators and technology companies, and (iii) different topic experts (virologists, epidemiologists, and data analysts); and there are no procedures and protocols predefined. None of these challenges are insurmountable, but they require a clear call for action. A CALL TO ACTION TO FIGHT COVID-19 To effectively build the best, most up-to-date, relevant, and actionable knowledge, we call on governments, mobile network operators, and technology companies (e.g. Google, Facebook, and Apple), and researchers to form mixed teams. Governments should be aware of the value of information and knowledge that can be derived from mobile phone data analysis, especially for monitoring the necessary measures to contain the pandemic. They should enable and leverage the fair and responsible provision and use of aggregated and anonymized data for this purpose. Mobile network operators and technology companies with widespread adoption of their products (e.g. Facebook, Google, and Apple) should take their social responsibility and the vital role that they can play in tackling the pandemic. They should reach out to governments and the research community. Researchers and domain experts (e.g. virologists, epidemiologists, demographers, data scientists, computer scientists, and computational social scientists) should acknowledge the value of interdisciplinary teams and context specificities and sensitivities. Impact would be maximized if governments and public authorities are included early on and throughout their efforts to identify the most relevant questions and knowledge needs. Creating multidisciplinary interinstitutional teams is of paramount importance, as recently shown successfully in Belgium and the Valencian region of Spain ( 45 ). Four key principles should guide the implementation of such mixed teams to improve their effectiveness, namely (i) the early inclusion of governments, (ii) the liaising with data protection authorities early on, (iii) international exchange, and (iv) preparation for all stages of the pandemic. Relevant government and public authorities should be involved early, and researchers need to build upon their knowledge systems and need for information. One key challenge is to make insights actionable—how can findings such as propagation maps lastly be used (e.g., for setting quarantine zones, informing local governments, and targeting communication). At the same time, expectations must be realistic: Decisions on measures should be based on facts but are, in the end, political decisions. Many insights derived from mobile phone data analytics do not have practical implications—such analysis and the related data collection should be discouraged until proven necessary. We also suggest such efforts be transparent and involve data protection authorities and civil liberties advocates early on and have quick iteration cycles with them. For example, policy makers should consider the creation of an ethics and privacy advisory committee to oversee and provide feedback on projects. This ensures that privacy is maintained and raises potential user acceptance. Aggregated mobile phone data can be used in line even with the strict European regulations (GDPR). Earlier initiatives have established principles and methods for sharing data or indicators without endangering personal information and build privacy-preserving solutions that use only incentives to manage behavior ( 46 – 48 ). The early inclusion of the data protection authority in Belgium has led to the publishing of a statement by the European Data Protection Board on how to process mobile phone data in the fight against COVID-19 ( 49 ). Even while acknowledging the value of mobile phone data, the urgency of the situation should not lead to losses of data privacy and other civil liberties that might become permanent after the pandemic. In this regard, the donation of data for good and the direct and limited (in time and scope) sharing of aggregated data by mobile network operators with (democratic) governments and researchers seem to be less problematic than the use of individual location data commercially acquired, brought together, and analyzed by commercial enterprises. More generally, any emergency data system set to monitor COVID-19 and beyond must follow a balanced and well-articulated set of data policies and guidelines and is subjected to risk assessments. Specifically, any efforts should meet clear tests on the proportionate, legal, accountable, necessary, and ethical use of mobile phone data in the circumstances of the pandemic and seek to minimize the amount of information gathered to what is necessary to accomplish the objective concerned. These are not unknown criteria; they are well inscribed into international human rights standards and law concerning, for example, the use of force. Certainly, the use of mobile phone data does not equate to the use of force, but in the wrong hands, it can have similarly devastating effects and lead to substantially curtail civil liberties. Considering the broad absence of legal frameworks and historical mishandling of data by technology companies, there is an urgent need for responsible global leadership and governance to guide efforts to use technology in times of emergency. We further see a clear need for more international exchange, not only with other domain experts but also with other initiatives and groups; findings must be shared quickly—there will be time for peer-reviewed publications later. In particular, in countries with weaker health (and often also economic) systems, the targeting and effectiveness of nonpharmaceutical interventions might make a big difference. This also implies the translation of important findings from English to other relevant languages. For later stages of the pandemic, and for the future, stakeholders should aim for a minimum level of “preparedness” for immediate and rapid action. On country and/or region levels, there will be a need of “standing” mixed teams; up-to-date technology, basic agreements, and legal prescriptions; and data access, procedures, and protocols predefined [also for “appropriate anonymization and aggregation protocols”; ( 46 )]. A long-time collaboration between infectious disease modelers, epidemiologists, and researchers of mobile network operator laboratories in France helped jump-start a project on the COVID-19 pandemic, with the support of public health authorities ( 50 ). Last, in addition to (horizontal) international exchange, we also need international approaches that are coordinated by supranational bodies. National initiatives might help to a certain extent but will not be sufficient in the long run. A global pandemic necessitates globally or at least regionally coordinated work. Here, promising approaches are emerging: the EU Commission on 23 March 2020 called upon European mobile network operators to hand over anonymized and aggregated data to the Commission to track virus spread and determine priority areas for medical supplies ( 51 ), while other coordination initiatives are emerging in Africa, Latin America, and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. It will be important for such initiatives to link up, share knowledge, and collaborate. The COVID-19 pandemic will not be over soon, and it will not be the last pandemic we face. Privacy-aware and ethically acceptable solutions to use mobile phone data should be prepared and vetted in advance, and we must raise readiness on national and international levels, so we can act rapidly when the crisis hits.
              Bookmark
              • Record: found
              • Abstract: found
              • Article: not found

              Impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on biodiversity conservation

              The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting all parts of human society. Like everyone else, conservation biologists are concerned first with how the pandemic will affect their families, friends, and people around the world. But we also have a duty to think about how it will impact the world's biodiversity and our ability to protect it, as well as how it might affect the training and careers of conservation researchers and practitioners. As editors of Biological Conservation, we have heard first-hand from colleagues, authors, and reviewers around the world about the problems they are facing, and their concerns for their students, their staff, and their research projects. Some of our colleagues have become infected with the virus. Field and lab work have largely shut down, while teaching and other communications have moved online, with consequences for training, data collection, and networking that are still unclear. Our colleagues and the media report some examples of reduced human pressures on natural ecosystems, cleaner air and water, and wildlife reclaiming contested habitats. Beyond the direct and immediate consequences of this particular virus, some have also started to think about emerging infectious diseases and their links with biodiversity loss, human activities, and issues of sustainability. As we write this, the pandemic is still accelerating in most countries, although there are hopeful signs of returns to normality in, for example, China. This editorial can therefore only be a snapshot of a quickly evolving situation. We hope, however, that we can offer some encouragement and insights for our colleagues in lockdown. Our world is changing, and the conservation community must be ready to respond. 1 Protecting conservation biology and biologists during and after the pandemic 1.1 Adapting education Across the world, universities and research institutes have shut down. As with other subjects, courses critical to the training of conservation biologists and managers are being cancelled or moved online. In practice, this means that professors with little prior online teaching experience are now teaching students with little experience in online learning. This can work well for some topics, but conservation is an applied science, like medicine, and students will miss the practical, hands-on experiences gained through labs and field courses. The consequences will depend on how long the shut-down continues and whether practical components of their training can be postponed until later. Many career-relevant decisions made in the field of conservation are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Exams have been postponed and the award of degrees and certificates has been delayed. There has been a huge decline in advertising new jobs and interviewing for those previously advertised. Major research projects are on hold or cancelled, and associated employment opportunities lost, at least for now. Many researchers are continuing to employ students and technicians to work remotely on data analysis, digitizing paper records, coding interview transcripts, annotating photos and videos, or other tasks, but this is only a small part of conservation-related research and cannot continue for long. The careers of tenured staff will survive if their institutions do, and students may be able to make up missed courses, but conservation also supports—and is supported by—numerous people who depend on temporary jobs in the field or lab. Early career scientists, such as graduate students and post-docs, need these jobs, both as a source of income and for the varied experiences they provide. For these young conservation scientists, financial worries interact with the problem of missed field or lab research. For some, these missed opportunities can be made up, although they may lead to delays of many months, but for others the damage will be irreversible, because of the nature of their research or their funding constraints. Many conservation organizations, both governmental and some NGOs, recruit large numbers of seasonal employees, as short-term local contractors, student interns, and volunteers, to carry out fieldwork, environmental education, trail maintenance, and other activities. These positions are an important source of training, experience, and income for people in the field of conservation biology. The pandemic currently makes it impossible for many organizations to interview, hire, train, house, and supervise seasonal staff. Unless lock-down measures are reduced dramatically in the next couple of months, a whole cohort of students may therefore miss out on these opportunities. Delays in training and career development, in combination with the economic and psychological impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, may cause some people to leave the field of conservation biology and pursue other careers that offer more stability or better pay. If the pandemic lasts into the next academic year, declining enrollments at universities, and in conservation and ecology courses, may have longer-term negative consequences. More optimistically, education and research in ecology, conservation, and environmental studies may appear more attractive and meaningful to young people who have been alerted to the global environmental crisis by this pandemic and made aware of the links between biodiversity conservation and human well-being. 1.2 Maintaining research University laboratories and other research facilities have shut down, ending many lab-based experiments and halting new research. Field research has been similarly impacted, with many field sites no longer accessible, because of travel and entry restrictions, and safety concerns. International travel has become all but impossible, and post-pandemic recovery may be slow if countries maintain entry restrictions. Researchers can no longer conduct field-based social research that requires interviews or focus groups, because of the possibility of disease transmission. Oceanographic research cruises have also been cancelled, many permanently because of the difficulty of re-scheduling ship time. The impact of losing these expeditions is high, because the locations to be explored are typically remote and under-studied. Missed research means missed opportunities to identify conservation priorities, monitor the health of endangered species and ecosystems, and provide practical solutions for the protection and sustainable use of resources on which human well-being depends. As with many concerns discussed here, the impact will depend on how long shutdowns last and whether research projects are simply postponed or permanently cancelled. Gaps in a long-running time series cannot be filled later but may not be serious if observations are restarted soon. A lot of conservation research nowadays involves data collection by citizen scientists. Most of this will be stopped for now, but it is important that conservation researchers keep in touch with citizen participants and, where possible, provide alternative activities. For example, backyard bird counts and web-based projects may receive increased attention. The looming global economic recession will reduce funds available to national governments and conservation foundations, and potentially reduce funding for research grants and conservation programs. Projects funded by the Inter-American development bank (IDB) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), for example, are now requesting a formal risk analysis related to the pandemic to assess whether and by how much the projects they fund will be impacted by the virus. Conservation research is unlikely to be a government priority during the post-pandemic economic recovery, and conservation biologists must communicate the many benefits that both this research, and biodiversity itself, provide society. Organizations reliant on external donors to employ staff and implement research and conservation activities will be particularly vulnerable. 1.3 Adjusting communication and networking One immediate consequence of the pandemic is that conservation and ecology meetings of all sizes have been cancelled for the next few months, and probably even longer. For many small to medium-sized gatherings, online conferencing technology might provide an effective way for people to meet and exchange ideas. For large conferences––like those held by the Society for Conservation Biology and the Ecological Society of America––involving many thousands of people, online meetings cannot replace the networking and interactions that happen at the in-person conferences. In face-to-face meetings, large venues provide unique opportunities to meet a wide range of people with varied expertise, to explore and learn about the latest developments in the field, and to get feedback on one's own projects. Such meetings also are places to reconnect with previous colleagues and collaborators, meet future collaborators and find colleagues who are mutually compatible. A missed conference is a minor concern for established individuals, but for graduate students and early career researchers and practitioners it can be a major loss. The current crisis creates both needs and opportunities for conservation science to communicate more online. Online communications can, for example, draw attention to the links between conservation and human well-being, test models for alternative events, funding, and educational measures, and make meetings more accessible to a larger community. It is not only academic meetings that are threatened. Two key global intergovernmental meetings planned for 2019 are crucial to addressing the twin environmental crises of our time: biodiversity loss and climate change. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP 15 was scheduled to take place in Kunming, China, in October and has now been postponed, with no new date announced as we write this. The purpose of this meeting was to establish a post-2020 global biodiversity framework, and its postponement means that key decisions will be delayed and may have less impact. Similarly, the UN climate change conference COP 26, planned for November in Glasgow, has been postponed, with potentially serious consequences for international efforts to address the challenges of climate change. As the world recovers from the pandemic, we must keep reminding our governments how important ambitious commitments at these two meetings are. 2 Protecting biodiversity during and after the pandemic 2.1 Biodiversity now How is the pandemic affecting biodiversity now? It is too early for a definite answer, but communications with our colleagues around the world suggest that essential conservation work is still going ahead. National parks and protected areas in some places are still being patrolled and vulnerable wildlife is still being guarded. This continued protection is a testament to the dedication of protected area staff during an extraordinarily difficult time. There may be problems we have not heard about, but on current evidence, practical conservation appears to be continuing in many places. There have even been anecdotal reports of reduced human pressures on wild species. In protected areas, declines in visitor numbers caused by travel restrictions and park closures have reduced stresses on sensitive animals and trampling pressure on popular trails. Conservation derives much of its public support from the accessibility of wild nature in protected areas, but reduced human pressures in the most popular parks will be good for sensitive species. We have also seen reports of wild species venturing into rural and urban areas, including parks and beaches, where they have not been seen for many years, as traffic and other human activity declines. In areas where travel is still possible and protected areas remain open, visitation has often greatly increased, reflecting a widespread feeling that activity in a natural setting is both a physical and a mental antidote to the stress of the pandemic. We predict it will increase in other areas too when restrictions are loosened. Satellite images have shown dramatic improvements in air quality in every country affected by the pandemic, as industry and transport shut down (Fig. 1 ). Fig. 1 Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide across eastern China from January 1–20, 2020 (before the COVID-19 quarantine) and February 10–25 (during the quarantine). Data collected by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on ESA's Sentinel-5 satellite. NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using modified Copernicus Sentinel 5P data processed by the European Space Agency. Fig. 1 Shipping has declined worldwide and reduced impacts on marine systems might be expected. This year will very likely see a global decline in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as large reductions in other drivers of global warming, such as the contrail cirrus from high-flying aircraft. These may be short-term improvements, but they dramatically underline the pervasiveness and severity of anthropogenic impacts worldwide. 2.2 Conservation going forward The positive impacts listed above are all likely to be temporary and it is currently not clear how conservation will fare in the aftermath of the pandemic. Noise, air, and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and the many other adverse human impacts on wild nature will rebound, but funding and other support for conservation will have to compete with a wide range of new priorities for financial resources which are likely to be reduced overall, at least in the near future. Conservation NGOs may also struggle to raise funding from private sources. Ultimately, conservation depends on boots on the ground and, if funding is limited, it is these activities that will need to be prioritized. On the other hand, if conservation must compete for resources, we may find that we have new allies. Experts in emerging infectious diseases have been warning for decades that habitat fragmentation and degradation, and live animal markets, increase the risk of diseases spilling over from wildlife into human populations. The emergence of many of the new scourges of our time—HIV, Ebola, Nipah, SARS, H5N1 and others—can be attributed, at least in part, to increased human impacts on natural systems. China has already taken the first steps towards ending the trade in live wild animals, but this needs a permanent global agreement, with teeth. And what if people's appreciation for vital ecosystem services such as clean air and water has grown, and they notice pollution when it reappears? This would provide an opportunity to push for stronger clean air and water regulations and better enforcement of existing regulations. Increasing visits to protected areas could be bad for sensitive species, but increasing support for the protected area system would be good news in the longer term. The inevitable uncertainties at this stage mean that the conservation community must be ready to respond to needs as they become apparent. We think the priority will usually be supporting people: ensuring that early career researchers and practitioners, on whom conservation depends, have opportunities to continue their careers and grow their contributions to the field. But we must also be ready to respond to positive new trends, to reach out to potential new allies, to step up public education, and to be available with the science when it is needed. Research may need to be triaged; we should probably focus on the highest priority protection, including species recovery and enforcement, but in a way that minimizes negative impacts on education and career development. 3 Stimulating opportunities for conservation research and practice Our journal Biological Conservation exists to advance the science and practice of conservation. The pervasive impacts of the pandemic on all aspects of human society present research opportunities that would not otherwise have occurred. While some socio-ecological systems will eventually return to their pre-pandemic states, others may be permanently altered. A single global event does not allow for a replicated design, but standardized measurements before, during, and after the pandemic can make up for this. Researchers who have been studying systems prior to the coronavirus pandemic are particularly well placed to monitor these systems during and after the crisis. In practice, we may often have to make do with less than this ideal—re-purposing old observations and matching them with new ones as closely as practical—but this can also be valuable. Useful topics for investigation will depend on how the pandemic develops and will vary between locations, but we offer some possible examples here with the hope of inspiring others. Impacts on research and conservation. What kinds of consequences will disruptions to field and lab work during the pandemic have for the species and ecosystems we are studying, monitoring, and protecting? What effects will reduced human impacts on wildlife and ecosystems during the pandemic have on wild species (e.g. ranging behavior, breeding) and ecosystems, and will any of these effects persist into subsequent years? Will conservation budgets be reduced because of the economic fallout from the pandemic, and how will this impact both staffing levels, and conservation science and practice? Will the ban on the capture, trade, and sale of live wild animals for food in China lead to reduced hunting pressure and the recovery of populations in the wild? How has the pandemic crisis impacted people whose livelihoods depend on conservation and ecotourism, especially local people who live near and inside protected areas? Impacts on education, training, and networking. Will the career paths and prospects for the current cohorts of senior undergraduate and graduate students differ from those who came before and will come after them? Will the current switch to online teaching for conservation science and related disciplines impact learning outcomes and will it have a long-term influence on how courses are taught in the future? What role will innovations in online technology play in conservation learning and science post COVID-19? Will the move to other models for conferences and networking have a permanent impact on if and how traditional conferences are held, and will these new models affect how research collaborations develop? Can lessons learned about online communication during the pandemic be used to reduce travel-related greenhouse gas emissions in the future? 4 Conclusions It is too early to evaluate the overall impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on biodiversity and our ability to protect it, but some preliminary conclusions are possible. At this point, protected areas appear to be safe and, in many places, biodiversity is benefitting from reduced human activities. However, this may not be true everywhere, especially where enforcement has weakened but threats have not. Research has been disrupted, but only time will tell if this will have long-term consequences. We are concerned for the training and careers of young conservation scientists, but the lasting effects of the pandemic on these will depend, in part, on how we and our institutions respond to these concerns. Finally, although we focus here on conservation, this is first and foremost a human tragedy, disrupting lives and killing far too many people. Society's priorities must be human health and the containment of the pandemic, but we also need to be thinking ahead to the resumption of conservation practice and education. There is an opportunity here to remind people of the links between healthy, resilient ecosystems and human well-being.
                Bookmark

                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature Ecology & Evolution
                Nat Ecol Evol
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                2397-334X
                June 22 2020
                Article
                10.1038/s41559-020-1237-z
                32572222
                6195668a-6b3c-40ac-b593-2a9137e3ae83
                © 2020

                Free to read

                http://www.springer.com/tdm

                http://www.springer.com/tdm

                History

                Comments

                Comment on this article