The anthropause was a global reduction in modern human activity, especially travel, that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in March and April 2020. It was coined by a team of researchers in June 2020 in an article discussing the positive impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on wildlife and environment.[1][2] The scientific journal that published the commentary, Nature Ecology and Evolution, selected the topic for the cover of its September issue, with the headline “Welcome to the anthropause”.[3] Oxford Languages highlighted the word "anthropause" in its 2020 Words of an Unprecedented Year report.[4]

The word is a blended lexical item with phonological overlap, combining the prefix anthropo-, from anthropos (Ancient Greek: ἄνθρωπος) meaning “human”, and the English word “pause”; its literal translation is “human pause”. The researchers explained in their article that they noticed that people had started referring to the lockdown period as the Great Pause, but felt that a more precise term would be helpful. The word anthropause intentionally links to the proposed geological epoch Anthropocene. It is not capitalised as it is conceivable that the anthropause caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will not remain the only such event.

Anthropause is a neologism that is fast entering common language usage, and has been adopted by social-media users, scientists,[5][6][7] journalists,[8][9][10] artists,[11] and photographers,[12] amongst others. William Gibson, the speculative fiction writer who famously coined the term “cyberspace” in his short story “Burning Chrome” in 1982, posted a tweet on 23 June 2020 simply entitled “The Anthropause”, linking to the article that introduced the term.[13]

Several global research projects are underway to investigate the effects of the COVID-19 anthropause.[14] [15] For example, a July 2020 study documented a global reduction of high-frequency seismic noise.[16] Another study, the COVID-19 Bio-Logging Initiative, uses animal tracking data collected before, during, and after lockdown, to assess how changes in human activity levels affected the movements and behaviour of a wide range of marine, terrestrial, and avian species.[9][17] In 2021, an article published in The Geographical Journal historically situated the COVID-19 anthropause amongst other anthropause events that led to significant reductions in human activity, such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the formation of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The authors drew attention to how the anthropause was experienced unevenly by different groups of people and animals, and shed light on a range of pre-existing inequalities as many humans were not afforded the opportunity to pause during this time.[18]


  1. ^ Rutz C, Loretto MC, Bates AE, Davidson SC, Duarte CM, Jetz W, et al. (September 2020). "COVID-19 lockdown allows researchers to quantify the effects of human activity on wildlife". Nature Ecology & Evolution. 4 (9): 1156–1159. doi:10.1038/s41559-020-1237-z. PMID 32572222. S2CID 219976980.
  2. ^ Zimmer, Carl (February 26, 2021). "The Secret Life of a Coronavirus - An oily, 100-nanometer-wide bubble of genes has killed more than two million people and reshaped the world. Scientists don't quite know what to make of it". Archived from the original on February 27, 2021. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  3. ^ "Welcome to the anthropause". Nature. 4 (9). September 2020. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  4. ^ "Oxford Word of the Year 2020 | Oxford Languages". Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  5. ^ Manenti R, Mori E, Di Canio V, Mercurio S, Picone M, Caffi M, et al. (September 2020). "The good, the bad and the ugly of COVID-19 lockdown effects on wildlife conservation: Insights from the first European locked down country". Biological Conservation. 249: 108728. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108728. PMC 7441970. PMID 32863391.
  6. ^ Forti LR, Japyassú HF, Bosch J, Szabo JK (August 2020). "Ecological inheritance for a post COVID-19 world". Biodiversity and Conservation. 29 (11–12): 3491–3494. doi:10.1007/s10531-020-02036-z. PMC 7424962. PMID 32836921.
  7. ^ "Tracking data show how the quiet of pandemic-era lockdowns allowed pumas to venture closer to urban areas". ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 7, 2021.
  8. ^ Gill V (June 23, 2020). "Scientists examine the great 'human pause'". BBC News. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  9. ^ a b Stokstad E (August 13, 2020). "The pandemic stilled human activity. What did this 'anthropause' mean for wildlife?". Science | AAAS. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  10. ^ Malsbury, Erin (July 7, 2021). "How the Hush of Pandemic Lockdown Changed Wildlife Behavior". Good Times Santa Cruz. Retrieved July 7, 2021.
  11. ^ "Anthropause Painting". Saatchi Art. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  12. ^ Gaspirtz O. Anthropause 2020: Lockdown in Los Angeles.
  13. ^ Gibson, William. "The Anthropause". Twitter. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  14. ^ Simon, Matt. "The Anthropause: How the Pandemic Gives Scientists a New Way to Study Wildlife". Archived from the original on July 1, 2020. Retrieved October 6, 2020.
  15. ^ Zuluaga, Santiago; Speziale, Karina; Lambertucci, Sergio A. (April 1, 2021). "Global Aerial Habitat Conservation Post-COVID-19 Anthropause". Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 36 (4): 273–277. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2021.01.009. ISSN 0169-5347. PMID 33546875.
  16. ^ Lecocq T, Hicks SP, Van Noten K, van Wijk K, Koelemeijer P, De Plaen RS, et al. (July 2020). "Global quieting of high-frequency seismic noise due to COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures". Science. 369 (6509): 1338–1343. Bibcode:2020Sci...369.1338L. doi:10.1126/science.abd2438. PMID 32703907.
  17. ^ "SOCIETY". Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  18. ^ Searle, Adam; Turnbull, Jonathon; Lorimer, Jamie (2021). "After the anthropause: Lockdown lessons for more-than-human geographies". The Geographical Journal. 187: 69–77. doi:10.1111/geoj.12373. ISSN 1475-4959.

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