Thursday, July 06, 2006

Campus wildlife

I want to know: has there ever been a biological or ecological study done on university campuses as being their own unique ecosystems? I ask, because this morning, walking over to the parking offices here at UWO, I passed a mother raccoon shepherding her four babies across the lawn beside University college, through a parking lot and into the woods behind the buisiness school.

Seriously, it was adorable. But it also sort of puts paid to anyone claiming that human beings have little or no impact on animal behaviour. Raccoons here at Western ceased to be nocturnal years ago -- I think the combination of better daytime garbage pickings and the realization that the human beings here were harmless led some of the more enterprising raccos to venture out in the daylight hours. Nevertheless, the shift from nocturnal to daytime lifestyles is pretty significant ... from what I know of biology (which is, admittedly, very little), that sort of behaviour is more or less hardwired after millenia of evolution. It's a pretty hefty environmental change to engender such a change.

Not that I necessarily think this is a bad thing (unless you're terrified of raccoons and would have a massive coronary to see one of them sitting on the picnic table next to you at the GC patio blithely munching away at a discarded pizza crust -- something I have seen on more than one occasion) ... animals living on university campuses have it made. There are quite frequently wooded areas and/or rather pastoral pathways, bodies of water like ponds or rivers or creeks, a population of humans highly unlikely to cause them harm (a question to the scientists: do campus animals go into hiding during O-week, Homecoming, and the end of the terms to avoid drunken undergrads more likely to hurl stone or adopt groundhogs as residence mascots? have they adapted to human stupidity as well as kindness?) ... and most importantly, there is an excess of food overflowing the numerous traschcans.

It strikes me that a campus like Western supports its own unique ecosystem, one well suited to cohabitation with homo sapiens ... we have numerous rabbits, groundhogs, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, ducks and birds -- all of which have more or less lost their fear of us. The number of times I've been sitting outside eating lunch and had a gang of chipmunks approach my feet with an expectant look is more than I can count. There are also predators: a variety of birds of prey inhabit our various trees and neo-gothic towers.

Seriously, I would think campuses would provide biologists and zoologists with an ideal sort of human-inspired ecosystem, kind of like a shipwreck, that provides a controlled environment in which to study animal adaptation. And if there hasn't been a study like this done, I invite scientists to steal my idea (as long as I get credit, and some sort of new species named after me).


andrew said...

i once saw a deer on UC hill around midnite sometime last spring. needless to say, he was looking a little lost.

Anonymous said...

"our various trees..."


Stover said...

Weep not for the noble raccoon. They're basically situationally nocturnal because they're adaptable -- anyplace lacking large predators (for raccoons, dogs, bears, wolves, coyotes and bears that shoot lasers out of their eyes) is going to see raccoons out in the daytime. I think it goes with being omnivorous and next in line to take over the planet.

The question would be, what different types of university ecosystems does one get when the university isn't bordered and run through with riverbanks (ie. prime raccoon condo space)?

York, for instance, seems to have been designed to support Hortas and not much else.

Swain said...

I was always fascinated by the Stevenson-Lawson cat. I'd be standing at the UCC bus stop at 11 at night, and hear a cat meowing from the direction of SLB. I could never tell if the cat was in the building itself, or in the bushes near the building. A cat really shouldn't be fascinating, but it seemed more out of place on a university campus than a squirrel or a raccoon.

kimie said...

i've seen gophers (sp?) on campus and a bird feeding her babies in a nest that was resting on a tree by the bridge that goes over the thames river. i love the nature at western.