By: Michael Allen Bryden
When you think of urban wildlife I’m willing to bet the first thing that comes to mind is that raccoon you've caught eating your garbage, but when you take a closer look, this type of wild interaction can be broken down and categorized. The species that live within our towns and cities are represented as either human associates, exploiters, adapters, or avoiders. These titles are used to differentiate between animals that take advantage of anthropogenic (human caused) development and those who are negatively affected by it. To better understand our wild neighbours we must first understand their role within our community.
Human associates, also known as human exploiters, are often omnivorous or generalist species that take advantage of human development for habitat or food supply. Food can come in a multitude of places but often comes in the form of gardens, garbage, pet food, and other exploiter species living around them. Exploiter species populations frequently thrive due to the abundance of food available within neighbourhoods. Some of these associate species are desired in our backyards, such as song birds that eat the seed humans provide within bird feeders, whereas other species are considered nuisance animals. Wildlife such as Racoons and Virginia Opossum are often considered problematic due to property damage and the potential to carry disease.
Human adapters are species that utilize human resources and urbanized areas, but do not necessarily receive any additional benefits from these areas. These species are generally found within more rural communities and can inhabit a large variety of habitats. Species such as white-tailed deer and red fox can generalise their needs and are not often problematic.
Human avoiders are species not often found in human dominated areas but may occasionally make their way in during migration seasons or during an attempt to disperse. These species frequently do have a history as problematic due to their lack of human interaction on a regular basis. Avoiders have a specific habitat they call home and it is often human development that cuts through their home range. Mountain lions and grey wolves are good examples of avoider species.
Urban darwinism is a term used to describe the rapid change wildlife is undergoing in urban areas. Through natural selection, species within cities and suburbs have evolved to adapt to their surroundings. Proof of this is all around us. For example, some species of song birds within towns have adapted their calls to adjust for human traffic. This makes their calls higher in pitch than that of their rural cousins. The topic of urban darwinism is a complex and expansive subject on its own, but it's important to understand how wildlife has changed with the introduction of humans.
In The Land Between, we are able to experience a wide variety of urbanized animals thanks to the vast wilderness that surrounds us. Meet a few of the species that might also call your neighbourhood home below!
Racoon, Human associate/exploiter
Striped skunk, Human adapter
Virginia opossum, Human associate/exploiter
Squirrels, Human associate/exploiter
Red Fox, Human adapter
Bats, Human associate/exploiter
Coyotes, Human adapter
Red-tailed hawk, Human adapter
White-tailed deer, Human adapter
White-tailed deer are particularly well known throughout Ontario. Being a large mammal, they play a big role in the health of their ecosystems. White-tails are grazers, feeding on grassy vegetation in the spring and summer months. Because of this, they prefer open fields located next to forested cover. In the winter months, these deer become browsers, feeding on the buds of new branches and saplings. White-tailed deer are most active in the fall during the rutting (breeding) season. During this time, male deer display their large rack of antlers to show dominance and attract females. Through the spring, deer can be found feeding in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn, but in the summer they are found feeding in the middle of the day. Deer are beautiful to observe, but their presence does come with a list of issues. Deer in large populations have a direct negative effect on vegetation abundance. In the case of human interaction, deer carry tick-borne diseases and pose a risk due to deer-vehicle collisions.