Aleuts, Sea Otters, and Alternate Stable-State Communities

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Science  28 Apr 1978:
Vol. 200, Issue 4340, pp. 403-411
DOI: 10.1126/science.200.4340.403


Reexamination of stratified faunal components of a prehistoric Aleut midden excavated on Amchitka Island, Alaska, indicates that Aleut prey items changed dramatically during 2500 years of aboriginal occupation. Recent ecological studies in the Aleutian Islands have shown the concurrent existence of two alternate stable nearshore communities, one dominated by macroalgae, the other by epibenthic herbivores, which are respectively maintained by the presence or absence of dense sea otter populations. Thus, rather than cultural shifts in food preference, the changes in Aleut prey were probably the result of local overexploitation of sea otters by aboriginal Aleuts.