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The unique spatial ecology of human hunters


Human hunters are described as ‘superpredators’ with a unique ecology. Chronic wasting disease among cervids and African swine fever among wild boar are emerging wildlife diseases in Europe, with huge economic and cultural repercussions. Understanding hunter movements at broad scales has implications for how to control the spread of these diseases. Here we show, based on analysis of the settlement patterns and movements of hunters of reindeer (n = 9,685), red deer (n = 47,845), moose (n = 60,365) and roe deer (n = 42,530) from across Norway (2001–2017), that hunter density was more closely linked to human density than prey density and that hunters were largely migratory, aggregated with increasing regional prey densities and often used dogs. Hunter movements extended across Europe and to other continents. Our results provide extensive evidence that the broad-scale movements and residency patterns of postindustrial hunters relative to their prey differ from those of large carnivores.

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Fig. 1: Population densities of hunters, prey and humans.
Fig. 2: Travel networks of human hunters relative to population density of prey.

Data availability

Data are available at Dryad:

Code availability

Analysis code is available at Dryad:


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We thank T. A. Steinset at Statistics Norway for providing data on hunters, NJFF for distributing the survey link, R. Vang at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research for technical assistance with setting up the online survey, and C. Darimont for constructive comments on a previous draft. The online survey was partly financed by the Norwegian Environment Agency. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information




A.M. conceived the idea, designed the study and wrote the first draft. A.M. and I.M.R. produced Figs. 1a–e and 2. H.V. led the analysis and created Fig. 1f. A.M. collected data on reindeer hunters in Nordfjella. V.G. collected data on reindeer hunters in Knutshø. C.M.R. organized the online survey. All authors commented on and approved further drafts.

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Correspondence to Atle Mysterud.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Primary handling editor: Charlotte Payne.

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Mysterud, A., Rivrud, I.M., Gundersen, V. et al. The unique spatial ecology of human hunters. Nat Hum Behav 4, 694–701 (2020).

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