There's a "super predator" roaming the Earth, causing wildlife extinctions, impacting animal populations and disrupting food chains — and all you need to see this predator is a mirror, researchers say.
That's right, humans — modern humans, at any rate — are having an ecological impact far above that of any other natural predator species, researchers say.
"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," says Chris Darimont of the University of Victoria in Canada.
One of the factors that make humans super predators, the researchers say, is that we target a different class of prey than does any natural predator species — we go after the adults.
"Whereas predators primarily target the juveniles or 'reproductive interest' of populations, humans draw down the 'reproductive capital' by exploiting adult prey," says study co-author Dr. Tom Reimchen, a biology professor at the Canadian school.
For example, humans typically take out adult fish populations at 14 times the rate that marine predators do.
This is triggering extinctions, driving an evolutionary shift toward smaller fish sizes and disrupting global food chains, the researchers write in the journal Science.
Technology is largely responsible for elevating humans to the lever of super predator, taking most of the danger out of the act of predation, Darimont says.
"Hunters 'capture' mammals with bullets, and fishes with hooks and nets," he says. That means they face minimal risk compared with non-human predators that are often injured in their day-to-day living of what amounts to a dangerous lifestyle, he explains.
Taking adult prey in safety at minimal cost to gain maximum, short-term reward is ultimately unsustainable, the researchers warn.
It leads to extreme outcomes that non-human predators seldom impose, the researchers say.
"Our impacts are as extreme as our behavior and the planet bears the burden of our predatory dominance," Darimont says.
This competitive dominance means that unless some steps are taken we "will continue to alter ecological and evolutionary processes globally," the researchers write.
If we want to lessen our severe impact on global ecosystems, they suggest, we must be prepared to cultivate cultural, economic and institutional change that place limits on human activities to more closely follow the behavior of natural predators.