Ecology of a widespread large omnivore, Homo sapiens, and its impacts on ecosystem processes

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  • Meredith Root-Bernstein, Universidad de Chile, UMR Sciences pour l'Action et le Développement, Universite Paris-Saclay, Center of Applied Ecology and Sustainability (CAPES)
  • ,
  • Richard Ladle, Universidade Federal de Alagoas, Oxford University, Oxford, UK.

Discussions of defaunation and taxon substitution have concentrated on megafaunal herbivores and carnivores, but mainly overlooked the particular ecological importance of megafaunal omnivores. In particular, the Homo spp. have been almost completely ignored in this context, despite the extinction of all but one hominin species present since the Plio-Pleistocene. Large omnivores have a particular set of ecological functions reflecting their foraging flexibility and the varied disturbances they create, functions that may maintain ecosystem stability and resilience. Here, we put the ecology of Homo sapiens in the context of comparative interspecific ecological roles and impacts, focusing on the large omnivore guild, as well as comparative intraspecific variation, focusing on hunter-gatherers. We provide an overview of the functional traits of H. sapiens, which can be used to spontaneously provide the functions for currently ecologically extinct or endangered ecosystem processes. We consider the negative impacts of variations in H. sapiens phenotypic strategies, its possible status as an invasive species, and the potential to take advantage of its learning capacities to decouple negative and positive impacts. We provide examples of how practices related to foraging, transhumance, and hunting could contribute to rewilding-inspired programs either drawing on hunter-gatherer baselines of H. sapiens, or as proxies for extinct or threatened large omnivores. We propose that a greater focus on intraspecific ecological variation and interspecific comparative ecology of H. sapiens can provide new avenues for conservation and ecological research.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Evolution
Pages (from-to)10874-10894
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • defaunation, hominin, hunter-gatherer, interspecific comparison, intraspecific variation, omnivory, taxon substitution

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