Animals are becoming nocturnal to avoid humans

A large analysis shows that many species are completely changing their habits to avoid humans.

Animals are becoming nocturnal to avoid humans
Credit: Kalyan Varma/Wikimedia Commons

It's come to this — just like ancient mammals used to go out at night to avoid the dinosaurs, some animals are becoming nocturnal just to avoid us.

A meta-analysis that included 76 studies of 62 mammals on six continents showed that almost all of them are shifting their activities to the nighttime just to prevent human interaction. Indisputably, we are the somewhat scary masters of this planet.

Kaitlyn Gaynor of the University of California, Berkeley, whose team carried out the study, discovered the pattern of animals becoming more active at night. This insight inspired her to conduct the meta-analysis, with the result clearly showing how much of an influence on the rest of Earth we've become.

“All mammals were active entirely at night, because dinosaurs were the ubiquitous terrifying force on the planet," said Gaynor. “Now humans are the ubiquitous terrifying force on the planet, and we're forcing all of the other mammals back into the night-time."

Some examples of these animals include the sun bear - a species from south-east Asia. When it's observed in places with few people around, only 19% of sun bear activities take place at night. On the contrary, around the research camp in Sumatra (teeming with people), 90% of the activity of the bothered sun bear is moved to the nighttime.

In a similar instance, when lions are tracked in the protected areas of Tanzania, only 17% of their activity is at night, in contrast to 80% of all activity that's moved to the night in populated regions.

On average, the study showed that human disturbance increased nocturnal activity in 62 species by 1.36 times, causing a 70/30 split in disturbed areas in favor of living more at night.

“There are fewer and fewer spaces wildlife can go to avoid people," pointed out Gaynor. “So they're avoiding us in time because they can't avoid us in space. This trend is going to continue as the human population grows."

This apparent trend begs the question - how will this change in behaviors affect the evolution of these species in the long term?

Some negative consequences that have been observed include situations where animals are forced to put themselves into unnecessary danger due to having to be up more at night. Sable antelopes in Africa, for example, would normally avoid waterholes after dusk for fear of predators but being forced by human hunters more of them drink their water at night. And more of them get killed.

For some animals, the shift in habit is allowing them to survive in a world run by humans. Tigers in Chitwan in Nepal live in close proximity to people by managing to hunt at night.

“It's a way to share space on an increasingly crowded planet," explained Gaynor. “We take the day and they take the night."

Time will tell the real consequences of such shifts, but the fact that we are influencing our environment and its inhabitants is beyond doubt.

You can check out the study here.

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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

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Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
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This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

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