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University of Montana study shows that urbanization has a markedly negative impact on animal diversity



Missoula, Montana – A red fox jumps gleefully into the snow, an elk pauses to stare into the valley, and a mountain lion holds a white-tailed deer in its tightly closed jaws.

Unexpectedly, these scenes—which are usually connected to isolated wilderness regions—take place directly over our rooftops, around the corner from our backyard garden, and up the trail from our busy neighborhoods.

These amazing moments are captured through the lens of Chris Hansen’s trail cameras, and the images also serve as a vital call to action for the protection of natural regions.

Hansen works as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Montana’s Boone and Crockett Wildlife Conservation Program.

During a thorough investigation that went from May to October 2019–2020, his team placed 178 motion-activated trail cameras at random locations in urban, suburban, exurban, rural, and wild areas.

The goal of the study was to determine how the number of homes in a given region influences the locations, numbers, and species diversity of animals as well as their frequency and peak activity hours.

The results, which were just published in the Journal of Mammalogy, showed that there are fewer different kinds of mammals in cities as they grow denser.

Particularly larger animals are less prevalent in cities. According to Hansen’s research, it is vital to preserve wild places for species that cannot survive in populated areas.

At UM, Hansen graduated with a Ph.D. in December 2021. His research on the effects of grazing and urbanization on animal communities has put him at the forefront of wildlife studies.

“Chris’s work brings vital insights into the complex relationship between urbanization and mammalian biodiversity,” said Joshua Millspaugh, Hansen’s mentor and the Boone and Crockett Professor of Wildlife Conservation at UM. “His research not only highlights the importance of preserving wild spaces but also contributes valuable data to the ongoing dialogue surrounding urban planning and wildlife conservation.”

Working together with Roland Kays, a research professor at North Carolina State University and the head of the Biodiversity & Earth Observation Lab at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, sparked Hansen’s interest in the topic.

The study concentrated on urban wildlife and how urbanization affects mammals in eastern areas.

Hansen’s research in Missoula, which was driven by a desire to investigate regional variations, refuted presumptions and offered a sophisticated viewpoint on the effects of urbanization in less developed places.

“I think it’s great in that it demonstrates how important these wild spaces are,” Hansen said. “As places like Missoula continue to grow, and we think about urban planning, it demonstrates that we don’t want to develop outward into wild areas, showing that wild spaces are important to maintaining a diverse mammal community.”

By highlighting the necessity of careful planning to strike a balance between human development and the preservation of vital ecosystems, Hansen’s research makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of animal conservation in the face of urbanization.

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