A new study reveals that big cats and dozens of other endangered mammal species live better in places where there is no telephone coverage.
The study, published last month in Biological Conservation, looks at the distribution of animals from 45 medium and large mammal species in the Brazilian Atlantic forest. These data were compared with the distribution of cellular antennas installed in the region. Result: Of more than 18,000 animal observations, only 18% occurred in areas where coverage for mobile networks was available. The relationship was even more striking for endangered species like the jaguar: only 4% of the appearances took place in places where you could make a phone call.
The study is a result of the well-established Human Footprint Index project that looks at factors such as roads, night lighting and human population density to determine the impact of civilization on natural systems. These observations allow stakeholders to make strategic decisions about the habitats to be protected. This index, while still incredibly useful, is still based on data prior to 2005, before the global proliferation of mobile devices. These last twelve years have made a big difference: the study reveals that many sites without roads, and therefore a priori hospitable for wildlife, have in fact high levels of network coverage.
For researchers, this is “the first study showing that mobile phone coverage can be used as a simpler, modern and unprecedented tool for assessing human influence”. This article brings “a valuable contribution to the field of conservation biology,” adds Richard Schuster, a biologist at Carleton University (Canada).
William F. Laurance, a professor and researcher at Australia’s James Cook University, also praised the study: “This is just another proof that vulnerable wildlife needs places that are free of human influence.”