Study: Humans' position as 'super predator' not sustainable

Researchers say we need significant cultural, economic and institutional changes to limit human predation.
By Brooks Hays  |  Aug. 21, 2015 at 5:05 PM
share with facebook
share with twitter

VICTORIA, British Columbia, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Man is the deadliest predator on Earth. A new study has designated a new category of hunter under which mankind falls, the "super predator."

It sounds laudatory and intimidating. If you're an endangered species, it is intimidating. But if you're one for sustainability, it's not exactly an endorsement.

In a new paper published in the journal Science, researchers at the University of Victoria in Canada blame humans' predatory behavior for throwing the world's ecosystems and food chains out of whack. Among other consequences, human hunger for protein and pride has resulted in widespread extinctions and shrinking fish sizes.

Non-human predators rarely have such profound effects on local and regional, let alone global, food chains.

"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," study author Chris Darimont, a geography professor and science director for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, explained in a press release. "Our impacts are as extreme as our behaviour and the planet bears the burden of our predatory dominance."

The new study -- a survey of the plethora of previous scientific literature on the subject -- explains how geopolitical factors lead to exploitation of planet's living resources. Technology simply serves as an enabler, improving the rate at which humans can kill even the largest of land and sea creatures.

Researchers also collected data on 2,125 predator-prey interactions, calculating the differences between human and animal predation. Humans take adult fish from the seas at a rate 14 times more efficient than marine predators. Likewise, humans kill top predators at a rate nearly 10 times that at which top carnivores kill each other.

In addition to taking fish and large predators from the wild at unnaturally high rates, humans also depart from the natural order of predation by targeting adults.

"Whereas predators primarily target the juveniles or 'reproductive interest' of populations, humans draw down the 'reproductive capital' by exploiting adult prey," said study co-author Tom Reimchen, a biology professor at Victoria.

Not surprisingly, Darimont, Reimchen and their colleagues say the current human model of predation is not sustainable. Animal populations are shrinking and species are disappearing.

"We should be protecting our wildlife and marine assets as an investor would in a stock portfolio," said Darimont.

To do so, researchers say we need significant cultural, economic and institutional changes to limit human predation and bring our rate of killing more in line with the rate at which natural predators harvest prey.

"This does present enormous challenges in the short term," Darimont said, "but's it's no different than changing the practices of our carbon economy."

Related UPI Stories
Trending Stories