There's a place for us: New research reveals humanity's roles in ecosystems

ScienceDaily | 2/17/2019 | Staff
"Almost all food webs that have been compiled and studied have been put together without including humans," says Jennifer Dunne (Santa Fe Institute), an ecologist and complex systems scientist who is leading the project with archaeologist Stefani Crabtree (Santa Fe Institute and Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity). "It takes a lot of time and effort to put these kinds of detailed data together. So even though ecologists have been studying food webs for decades, we're only now in a position where we can start to rigorously compare human roles and impacts across different systems to understand sustainability in new kinds of ways," says Dunne.

What do we learn when we do include humans?

Part - Presentation - Symposium - Dunne - Results

As part of her presentation during the second symposium, Dunne will reveal initial results from a comparison of food webs that explicitly include humans across several socioecological systems. Three are pre-industrial systems -- the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, the Pueblo U.S. Southwest, and the Western Desert of Australia, and one is modern -- the Tagus Estuary of Portugal. Given the diversity of cultures, ecologies, climates, and time periods represented in the data, Dunne suggests that we can start to learn "something more general about human roles in, and impacts on, ecosystems" by comparing these systems. For example, humans are often super-generalists compared to other predators -- they feed on a huge variety of different species.

In some systems, humans as super-generalist predators can fit into ecosystems without causing extinctions or major environmental degradation. For example, according to Dunne's pioneering analysis published in Scientific Reports in 2016, the Sanak Island (Alaska) Aleut fed on a whopping 122 of 513 taxa in the nearshore marine ecosystem. However, like other predators, they switched from their favorite prey -- sea lions -- to shellfish, kelp, or whatever was readily available when the weather did...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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