When researchers compared human predation with others in both land and marine environments, we came out on top. Humans have been dubbed as “super predators,” but this isn’t anything to celebrate. Our unsustainable predation has driven widespread wildlife extinction, shrunk fish sizes and negatively altered global food chains. In other words, we are the best at being the absolute worst.
“Well, all the species that humans now exploit had to deal with a range of predators for several million years [...] Then modern humans arrive on-scene and with capture methods that circumvent the majority of these prey defenses” lead research Dr. Chris Darimont, the Hakai-Raincoast professor of geography at the University of Victoria, said in a press conference.
Darimont led a research team to compare human and non-human predation. They surveyed 2,125 species of predators around the world in marine and terrestrial environments. Researchers were surprised by the findings, which showed a huge magnitude of difference between human and non-human predators.
The results, published in the journal Science, revealed that humans preyed on the adults from other species at rates up to 14 times higher than other predators. In contrast, non-human predators primarily target juveniles of populations, most of which are doomed from the pressures of starvation and disease. Researchers suggest that this marks human predation as fundamentally different from others in nature.
“These implications, the high exploitation rates that drive them, and the broadest taxonomic niche of any consumer uniquely define humans as a global ‘super predator,’” researchers note in the study.
Humans have killed large land carnivores such as bears and lions up to nine times higher than the rate these animals killed themselves. The predation rate was even more disproportionate and intense in the Atlantic Ocean.
While there have been some short-term benefits to human predations, researchers warn that the profound implications on system stability in a variety of ecosystems will soon be felt by humans. By targeting larger adult fishes, for example, humans have driven the shrinking of body sizes of prey. This makes the fish population less resilient to harvesting by humans as smaller fish have fewer offspring.
Darimont hopes that his research could shift the way society thinks of predators and help people to understand that our own species is not only a predator, but a dominant one.
“Is it a warning? It wasn't designed as such, but I suspect many will interpret it as yet another call for humanity to reconsider its impacts on the ecosystem and ultimately upon ourselves,” he adds.