Ecological Effects on Hunting

Because successful hunting requires a clear understanding of the relationship between the prey species and its biotic and abiotic environment, hunters were probably the first ecologists. In early human history, hunting made most people ecologists by necessity. Now millions of recreational ecologists study the relationships between wildlife and their environments with hopes of increasing the likelihood of successful hunts. Because hunters were among the first ecologists, and continue to study relationships among game species, other organisms, and the abiotic environment, ecosystems shaped and shape the practice of hunting. Hunting generally occurs in areas where prey species predictably occur. Like nonhuman predators, hunters have always focused their efforts in areas and at times where prey species meet critical needs (e.g., food, cover, rest, reproduction). In arctic areas hunters target seals at breathing holes in ice, in arid areas hunters wait near watering holes, and salt and other mineral deposits (natural and artificial) provide a common hunting location throughout the world. Deer hunters often position themselves between cover and foraging areas during dawn and dusk when deer predictably move between these areas. Waterfowl hunters position themselves on or near small water bodies where waterfowl rest along migration routes during fall migrations.

Biodiversity also influenced the persistence of subsistence hunting. In areas lacking domesticatable species, hunting remained essential to human survival until domestic plants and animals were imported from other areas. Changing landscape patterns have also influenced hunting. As agriculture and urban sprawl created a fragmented landscape in many areas, popular game species -including white-tailed deer and Canada geese (Branta canadensis) - became nuisances in suburban areas. In many such cases, hunting in nearby areas became an important tool for controlling those nuisance species.

While technology (e.g., firearms, motor vehicles) has allowed modern hunting to develop independent of ecological relationships in some ways, ecosystems have shaped the social nature of hunting. In relatively open landscapes, persistence hunting (using teamwork to run down prey) evolved. In densely forested areas, hunting evolved to be less of a group activity. Attributes of prey also influenced the social nature of hunting. Large prey species required larger groups of hunters, processors, and eaters. Even with modern technology, however, ecosystems influence the social dynamics of hunting. Emerging zoonotic diseases are shaping perceptions of hunting risk and influencing hunting participation. When chronic wasting disease (CWD) was discovered in Wisconsin (USA) deer herds in 2002, hunter numbers began declining and more than 50% of deer hunters using firearms that hunted in 2001, but not 2002, cited CWD as their reason for not hunting.

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