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Why humans are overwhelming predators

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This article was first introduced on hakai magazine, Online publication on the science and society of coastal ecosystems. To read more articles like this,

Some may be picky eaters, but as a species we are not. They eat birds, insects, whales, and snails. But we depend on wild animals for more than just feeding ourselves. From agricultural feed to pharmaceuticals to the pet trade, modern societies exploit wild animals in ways that outstrip even the most voracious and docile wild predators. For the first time, researchers are trying to get a complete picture of how we use wild vertebrates, their numbers and purpose. This research shows how far-reaching our collective impact on wildlife is.

Scientists have so far tallied just how much biomass humans extract from the wild compared to other predators. But biomass is only one part of the picture, and researchers wanted to more fully understand how human predatory behavior affects biodiversity. Analyzing data compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Researchers have now found that humans kill, collect, or otherwise use about 15,000 species of vertebrates.. That’s about one-third of all vertebrate species on Earth and up to 300 times wider than the next top predator in any ecosystem.

According to Rob Cook, an ecological modeler at the UK Center for Ecohydrology and co-author of the study, the predator that benefits us most is the owl, which hunts a staggeringly diverse range of prey. For example, the Eurasian Eagle Owl is one of the largest and most widely distributed owls in the world. This owl is not very picky, and can hunt up to 379 different species. Researchers have calculated that humans consume 469 species over an equivalent geographical range.

But according to Chris Darimont, a conservation scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia and a co-author of the study, the biggest shock isn’t the number of species we’re affecting. why we receive them. “Free results,” he says. “We will be eliminating or preying on more species of animals for non-edible reasons than for edible reasons.” The biggest use is for pets and pet food. “That’s where things got off track,” he says.

There is some nuance to this widespread trend. When it comes to saltwater and freshwater organisms, we are primarily concerned with human consumption. For terrestrial animals, however, it depends on what kind of animal is the target. Mammals are primarily hunted for human food, while birds, reptiles and amphibians are primarily kept as pets. In total, nearly 75 percent of land species consumed by humans enter the pet trade, nearly twice the number of species consumed for human consumption.

This problem is particularly acute for tropical birds, and the decline of these species can have ramifications for ecosystems. For example, the hornbill, a bird native to Southeast Asia, is hunted primarily for the pet trade and for its medicinal beak. Or carved like ivory. With their huge beaks, these birds are one of the few species capable of cracking the largest, hardest nuts in the forests they inhabit. Their disappearance limits seed dispersal and the spread of trees around forests.

Another major difference between human impact on wild animals and that of other predators is that humans tend to favor rare and exotic species in different ways than other animals. Most predators target common species because they are easy to find and catch. But humans tend to crave novels. “The rarer it is, the higher the price, so it could drive up prices and drive us into a vortex of extinction,” Cook said.

Human targeting of the largest and most flashy animals threatens not only their unique biodiversity and beauty, but also the role they play in ecosystems, Cook said. Nearly 40% of the species that humans prey on are threatened with extinction. The researchers suggest that industrialized societies could look to indigenous management models as a way to manage wildlife more sustainably and live together.

People have been fishing for thousands of years, says Andrea Reed, a citizen of the Nishgua Nation and an indigenous fisheries scholar at the University of British Columbia. “However, choices that shape industrial fisheries, such as how people consume fish caught far from their homes, contribute to the high levels of impacts on fish species observed. It’s happening,” she says.

If we want wild species, not just fish, to survive, perhaps we need to rebuild our relationship with wild species, from predators to managers, says Reid.

This article was originally published on hakai magazine Republished here with permission.

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