The contribution of predators and scavengers to human well-being

Abstract

Predators and scavengers are frequently persecuted for their negative effects on property, livestock and human life. Research has shown that these species play important regulatory roles in intact ecosystems including regulating herbivore and mesopredator populations that in turn affect floral, soil and hydrological systems. Yet predators and scavengers receive surprisingly little recognition for their benefits to humans in the landscapes they share. We review these benefits, highlighting the most recent studies that have documented their positive effects across a range of environments. Indeed, the benefits of predators and scavengers can be far reaching, affecting human health and well-being through disease mitigation, agricultural production and waste-disposal services. As many predators and scavengers are in a state of rapid decline, we argue that researchers must work in concert with the media, managers and policymakers to highlight benefits of these species and the need to ensure their long-term conservation. Furthermore, instead of assessing the costs of predators and scavengers only in economic terms, it is critical to recognize their beneficial contributions to human health and well-being. Given the ever-expanding human footprint, it is essential that we construct conservation solutions that allow a wide variety of species to persist in shared landscapes. Identifying, evaluating and communicating the benefits provided by species that are often considered problem animals is an important step for establishing tolerance in these shared spaces.

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Fig. 1: International Union for Conservation of Nature global distribution of some species that are known to provide important services to humans over some portion of their range.

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Acknowledgements

C.J.O. would like to thank J. Wallace Coffey for his wisdom and mentorship leading to this manuscript. His legacy will not be forgotten. This work was funded partly by an Invasive Animal Cooperative Research Centre top-up scholarship and an Australian International Postgraduate Research Scholarship to C.J.O., by an ARC DECRA Fellowship to E.M.-M., and an ARC DECRA grant to H.L.B. N.H.C is grateful for support from the NSF Idaho EPSCoR Program (NSF award IIA-1301792).

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C.J.O, J.E.M.W. and A.R.B. conceived the idea for the Review. C.J.O. wrote most of the manuscript and located case studies. H.L.B., E.M.-M. and N.H.C. assisted with conceptual framing and style. All authors contributed with editing and writing.

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Correspondence to Christopher J. O’Bryan.

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O’Bryan, C.J., Braczkowski, A.R., Beyer, H.L. et al. The contribution of predators and scavengers to human well-being. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 229–236 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0421-2

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