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Humans are “unique super-predator”?


The BBC, having announced that chimps have “entered the Stone Age” (because they smash stuff with rocks, as do birds), has also announced that humans are unique super-predators. Actually, the point made is mostly a sensible one (for once):

The analysis of global data details the ruthlessness of our hunting practices and the impacts we have on prey.

It shows how humans typically take out adult fish populations at 14 times the rate that marine animals do themselves.

And on land, we kill top carnivores, such as bears, wolves and lions, at nine times their own self-predation rate.

But perhaps the most striking observation, say authors Chris Darimont and colleagues, is the way human beings focus so heavily on taking down adult prey.

This is quite different from the rest of the animal kingdom, for which the juveniles of a species tend to be the most exploited.

So we should shoot Bambi, and not his mom? Can they sell that idea?

Part of this is explained by the tools that human hunters exclusively can deploy. More.

Wait! Are there tools that human hunters exclusively can deploy? We thought chimps were entering…

Oh never mind. Human exclusivity is Correct Thought if (and only if) it contributes to alarmism and bad public policy.

The authors do make a serious point, insofar as taking out breeding adults has a bigger environment impact than taking out untested juveniles. But most enforced hunting regulations take that into account.

Then it all gets a bit strange:

And as for refocusing the age class to take more juveniles, Dr Carbone argued that it would very much depend on the species in question. Not all species would react in the same way. But he said there was perhaps an even more fundamental problem, which was the density of human predators versus their prey.

“We exist at vastly higher densities than natural predators,” he told BBC News.

Which is why we invented farming.

“It might be that 100 zebras could support a lion, but in the case of humans we can outnumber our prey in many instances, and that throws the system. So even if we didn’t have the efficient hunting technology, we’d still have problems with sustainability.”

But who eats zebras today?

What we actually have is a growing worldwide obesity problem. And most food shortages now are man-made. And most endangered large animals are victims of non-food-related poaching.

So none of this makes any sense.

Brits, quit funding the BBC. And don’t write back and say, Canucks, quit funding the CBC. We’re working on that.  What’s most needed is a critical mass of citizens who sense the need for real news and the damage done by tax-funded nonsense news. For example, there are very serious issues around poaching, but the stuff linked above is a waste of time.

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Bob O'H, I understand perfectly well what the paper was about, and sense that its conclusions are misguided. Whether taking down adults or juveniles is worse for long-term numbers depends critically on the species' usual life habits in relation to their ecosystems. Because the variation is so broad, it must be determined on a species-by-species basis, not according to vast generalizations such as that taking down adults is worse. Shooting an adult Canada goose usually means taking out its accustomed breeding partner for at least a season as well, so that is two down, not one. That must be factored in. But, for numbers, taking out an adult stag may be far less significant than taking out a juvenile doe. The doe would accept another stag, but the stag may find himself battling another stag for a *fixed number of does in the woodlot* - which is not the best way to build up numbers. In other words, it all depends. News
News - ah, I didn't mis-understand you. I can only assume then that you don't understand what the paper was about. It was saying that other species tend to kill young, whereas humans tend to kill larger adults, and this has a more detrimental effect on the populations:
But perhaps the most striking observation, say authors Chris Darimont and colleagues, is the way human beings focus so heavily on taking down adult prey.
Hunting regulations just enforce this (e.g. look at the regulations on thin-horned sheep in Alberta. They specifically exclude smaller sheep, which are more fecund. I agree that the situation will be species-specific, but that means a blanket denial of the results is off-base. Bob O'H
Bob O'H at 10: No, you did not misunderstand me. The question of whether killing adults is a problem depends on the species. That fact was more or less admitted in the article. In harem-ish species, the male population can be way smaller than the female population, and it might not matter much to future numbers (though it may cause certain traits to get dropped from the gene pool). However, the spring bear hunt was banned in many places because the loss of females when they had cubs meant the loss of the cubs too. Also, it was unacceptable on humanitarian grounds, of course. Some fast-breeding species can be devastated one year and recover their numbers years later. There is no such principle as the authors claim; the matter must be resolved in each case by close study of the habits of the species. News
News - isn't the problem is that humans kill adults, not juveniles? Or had I mis-understood you? Bob O'H
Really? My cat most certainly hunts for sport. My cat hunts for the warm spot. Mung
I'm a "superpredator" but I don't hunt anything. I eat meat that comes from farming not predation. The only thing I eat that comes from predation is fish. And even that is changing because the fishing industry is quickly turning to offshore farming to replenish their stocks. I suspect that over 90% of the world's population do as I do. I don't think I see the point of this article. Humans are smart and effective at killing other animals. So what? We are also smart at a lot of other things. Mapou
Virgil Really? My cat most certainly hunts for sport. Andre
Bob O'H, hunting regs can be based on census health of populations. Not every adult is critical to the survival of a species. And no one is going to pay big bucks to shoot Bambi. News
News - how do hunting regulations mitigate the problems? Don't they encourage hunting of adults rather than juveniles? Bob O'H
Andre- Predators don't hunt for sport, they hunt for food. Virgil Cain
If we are super predators why the fuss about the guy that shot the lion? Andre
Yes, exactly, Bob O'H at 1, sensible hunting regulations, enforced, largely mitigate the problem outlined. Allowing native peoples to benefit from hunting (as guides, lodge employees, etc.) gives them an economic incentive to support enforcement. The argument breaks down, however, when human and animal differential populations are compared because most food consumed by humans is actually raised by same. Conservation IS very important, but nonsense doesn't help the cause. News
Ah, typical News an attack on the BBC. But had she read as far as the eighth sentence she would have seen that this was reporting on the work of Canadian scientists. And it was widely reported in the press: it's an interesting idea. I was in Canada last year and chatted to a biologist there who pointed out that one difference between hunting and wolves is that hunting is banned in the breeding season, so juvenile mortality is reduced. Bob O'H

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