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Predator of predators

Human impact on planet subject of upcoming public lecture

By Kelly Foss

When people think of predators, they often think of wolves or sharks, maybe spiders. Few would identify our own species as a predator.

Dr. Chris Darimont, an associate professor of geography at the University of Victoria, believes not only do humans function as predators, but their impact is one of a “super predator”—a predator of predators, one with the largest menu list on the planet and especially impactful in the oceans.

“Humans are like no other predator on the planet,” said Dr. Darimont. “Typically predators target the ‘newly born or the nearly dead.’ Humans instead target the largest and healthiest of individuals within populations. Typically, other predators take a tiny fraction of adult prey within populations—not so with humans, who take far more, especially when fish or carnivores are prey. And humans are the only species to trophy hunt.”

Hear about some of Dr. Darimont’s work in the Faces of University of Victoria Research below.

At his public lecture on Thursday, July 6, at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, Dr. Darimont will cover the few but seminal pieces of research over the last century that calls for a re-examination of human activities, not from a fisheries or wildlife management lens, but rather from an ecological and evolutionary lens.

Sustainable exploitation

Work covered will include his group’s own grizzly bear-salmon-human project in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, as well as its recent meta-analysis and synthesis on “human super predators” published in Science earlier this year. The new perspectives offered in this work describe how humans have essentially freed themselves from the limitations imposed on other predators in nature, and focus on humanity’s efforts to impose new limits via management.

“Natural predators can give us behavioural guidance. They are truly models of sustainable exploitation.” –Dr. Chris Darimont

“There are lots of ways to do things better,” said Dr. Darimont. “Natural predators can give us behavioural guidance. They are truly models of sustainable exploitation.”

The lecture is sponsored by the Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution, of which Dr. Darimont is a member. The self-described” West Coast kid who grew up playing in tide pools and forests with my brother and dog,” is an evolutionary ecologist, but also enjoys interdisciplinary work.

Strange beasts

“In wildlife work, I partner exclusively with Indigenous governments because my value systems align with theirs and I recognize their sovereignty in areas I do research,” he said. “Although I do mostly field studies on wildlife, mainly predators, I am fascinated by human predators. As a deer hunter and salmon fisher, I also have personal interest in the strange beast we are.”

He’s particularly excited to experience the East Coast with his wife and two daughters for the first time.

“We are West Coast people, but feel we are missing something without seeing the eastern shorelines, and the different boats, cultures, environment,” said Dr. Darimont. “There are lots of learning opportunities.”

His free public lecture, titled Human Super Predators, will take place Thursday, July 7, at 7:30 p.m. with emcee Greg Malone.

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