Report

The unique ecology of human predators

Science  21 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6250, pp. 858-860
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4249

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An anomalous and unbalanced predator

In the past century, humans have become the dominant predator across many systems. The species that we target are thus far in considerable decline; however, predators in the wild generally achieve a balance with their prey populations such that both persist. Darimont et al. found several specific differences between how humans and other predatory species target prey populations (see the Perspective by Worm). In marine environments, for example, we regularly prey on other predator species. These differences may contribute to our much larger ecological impact when compared with other predators.

Science, this issue p. 858; see also p. 784

Abstract

Paradigms of sustainable exploitation focus on population dynamics of prey and yields to humanity but ignore the behavior of humans as predators. We compared patterns of predation by contemporary hunters and fishers with those of other predators that compete over shared prey (terrestrial mammals and marine fishes). Our global survey (2125 estimates of annual finite exploitation rate) revealed that humans kill adult prey, the reproductive capital of populations, at much higher median rates than other predators (up to 14 times higher), with particularly intense exploitation of terrestrial carnivores and fishes. Given this competitive dominance, impacts on predators, and other unique predatory behavior, we suggest that humans function as an unsustainable “super predator,” which—unless additionally constrained by managers—will continue to alter ecological and evolutionary processes globally.

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