The unique ecology of human predators

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Are humans unsustainable ‘super predators’? Want to see what science now calls the world’s “super predator”? Look in the mirror.

The unique ecology of human predators
Big game hunter Gary Kock and ‘prize’ 
[Credit: The Greanville Post]

Research published today in the journal Science by a team led by Dr. Chris Darimont, the Hakai-Raincoast professor of geography at the University of Victoria, reveals new insight behind widespread wildlife extinctions, shrinking fish sizes and disruptions to global food chains.

“These are extreme outcomes that non-human predators seldom impose,” Darimont’s team writes in the article titled “The Unique Ecology of Human Predators.”

The unique ecology of human predators
A coastal wolf is hunting salmon in British Columbia, Canada 
[Credit: Guillaume Mazille]

“Our wickedly efficient killing technology, global economic systems and resource management that prioritize short-term benefits to humanity have given rise to the human super predator,” says Darimont, also science director for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. “Our impacts are as extreme as our behaviour and the planet bears the burden of our predatory dominance.”

The team’s global analysis indicates that humans typically exploit adult fish populations at 14 times the rate of marine predators. Humans hunt and kill large land carnivores such as bears, wolves and lions at nine times the rate that these predatory animals kill each other in the wild.

The unique ecology of human predators
Wildlife under pressure. Darimont et al. show that the rates at which humans exploit 
land mammals and marine fish vastly exceeds the impacts of other predators. 
Marine fish experience “fishing through marine food webs,” with different trophic 
groups similarly affected. In contrast, on land top predators are exploited at 
much higher rates than are herbivores [Credit: P. Huey/Science]

Humanity also departs fundamentally from predation in nature by targeting adult quarry. “Whereas predators primarily target the juveniles or ‘reproductive interest’ of populations, humans draw down the ‘reproductive capital’ by exploiting adult prey,” says co-author Dr. Tom Reimchen, biology professor at UVic. Reimchen originally formulated these ideas during long-term research on freshwater fish and their predators at a remote lake on Haida Gwaii, an archipelago on the northern coast of British Columbia.

Source: University of Victoria [August 20, 2015]

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