New Study: Humans are ‘Super-Predators’

According to a new study led by researchers at the University of Victoria, human beings are unique in their extreme and destructive tendencies as hunters. The study, published in the online journal Science, found the hunting habits of humans to be extremely destructive and disruptive to the environment and its ecology, when compared to the efficient and sustainable hunting practices of other top predators (you can read the study for yourself here). Because of this, scientists are calling human beings “super-predators,” capable of altering not only the ecology, but the evolutionary path of animal species on a global scale.


In a new study, researchers examined over 2,000 interactions between natural predators and prey, comparing their behaviors and methods to those of human hunting and fishing.
They found that humans kill top carnivores at a higher rate than all other top predators combined. Interestingly, humans also seem to favor hunting the adult members of the species that we kill, as bigger animals tend to hold higher value, both in food production , and in recreational trophy hunting . In total, the study found that when we fish, humans kill 14 times the amount of adult prey as other undersea predators. On land, we kill upwards of 9 times the amount of adult carnivorous predators than other natural hunters do.

This idea of killing the adults of a species is unique to that of human hunting, as most other top predators seek to kill the young members of a species, generally due to them being weaker and easier to catch. Due to advanced technology, and an increasing demand for an exponentially-increasing population, human beings have become the super-predator, capable of destroying entire ecosystems, and even changing the evolutionary courses of species.


Human hunting behaviors have proven throughout history to be devastating to many species—often driving entire populations of megafauna to the brink of extinction. Two examples can be found in the rapid extinction of the wooly mammoth and the giant sloth —two species that thrived in the absence of humans. As soon as humans intervened, the two species rapidly went extinct, consumed entirely by the super-predator.

This process of consuming entire species of animals still continues today, and not only leads to the endangerment (and ultimately, the extinction) of thousands of species, but to the altering of certain evolutionary processes on a global scale. Researchers have found that the more adult fish and top predators of the sea that we consume, the smaller these species become by the time they are able to reproduce. Additionally, these species also tend to produce less and less eggs with each subsequent generation, affecting their populations, as well as our future harvesting of fish.


According to Chris Darimont, lead author of the study and director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation in British Columbia, there is still time to save our future supplies of food, as well as future generations of other top predators—if only we could start to learn from the methods and behaviors of natural hunters, which almost never harm the populations of their prey significantly.

Darimont asks us to imagine the adult animals that we kill as “capital,” capable of producing “interest” in the form of their young. By killing these young members of a species, both in food production and in trophy hunting, the adults would be able to produce and replace this interest as soon as the next breeding season. Currently, we practice the killing of these adults instead, halting the reproduction of many species at a rate that the researchers claim to be extremely disruptive to a specie’s population. Darimont claims that if we start to act soon in changing our fishing and hunting methods, we can still help bring back populations of marine life from the brink of extinction on a global scale. However, the hunting of large land carnivores must stop immediately if we want to keep them around for future generations, as they simply have not evolved as prey, equipped to handle the heavy losses that they suffer at the hands of super-predators every year.