The term exploitation as used in ecology refers to the extraction of wild living resources by humans. Fishing, hunting, and forestry are common forms of exploitation in the ecological sense. These activities have profoundly affected ecosystems worldwide. They now have to be considered as one of the dominant ecological factors when studying the dynamics of many populations or the structure of ecological communities. This article outlines some of the known effects of exploitation on populations, communities, and ecosystems. The historical trajectory of exploitation and cumulative effects with other ecological factors are also highlighted.

Exploitation of natural resources is an essential condition of the human existence. This refers primarily to food supply, but fibers, timber, furs, and other natural goods are also extracted. Note that in the social sciences, exploitation refers to an economic or social relationship in which human beings are treated as a resource without consideration for their well-being. In ecology such value judgments are usually not applied. However, exploitation that is carried out in a nonsustainable way or that threatens a resource with extinction would commonly be labeled overexploitation in the ecological sciences. When does exploitation become overexploitation? This question has occupied humanity for centuries, and is causing increasing concern, as the nonsustainable exploitation of natural resources ultimately threatens human existence.

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