Adult African lion (Panthera leo) in South Africa. Predators such a lions provide
important services to ecosystems and our review suggests that these services are not easily replaced
by human hunting.

Photo credit: R. Lennox.

By Robert Lennox, Jacob Brownscombe, Chris Darimont, Andrij Horodysky, Taal Levi, Graham Raby, and Steven Cooke.

Read the full paper here.

Predators have an important role in wild systems that benefit the ecosystem. Major effects of predators include guiding evolution of their prey, managing disease outbreaks in prey, regulating the distribution of prey, controlling the flow of carbon and nutrients in the food web, and even affecting human health and safety. Around the world, predators are declining due to habitat loss and direct hunting or persecution. Often, people celebrate loss of predators for reducing predation pressure on prey populations that can release greater yields to human harvesters. Can humans have similar positive impacts on ecosystems when compared to wild predators?

We conducted a literature review to compare how humans and wild predators provide ecosystem services by killing prey. Our review found that there is poor evidence that human predators can replace the valuable services that wild predators provide to society and the environment. The findings suggest that humans and wild predators are targeting and removing different individuals from a prey population and across time this can have very different impacts on the prey population and ecosystem at large. Better natural accounting of the value predators provide can improve conservation and can also guide better management. We suggest that new ways of managing hunting and fishing can inspire harvesting practices that better emulate the positive impacts that predators have on the planet.