Aboriginal overkill : The role of Native Americans in structuring western ecosystems

Human Nature : an Interdisciplinary Biosocial Perspective
C E Kay


Prior to European influence, predation by Native Americans was the major factor limiting the numbers and distribution of ungulates in the Intermountain West. This hypothesis is based on analyses of (1) the efficiency of Native American predation, including cooperative hunting, use of dogs, food storage, use of nonungulate foods, and hunting methods; (2) optimal-foraging studies; (3) tribal territory boundary zones as prey reservoirs; (4) species ratios, and sex and age of aboriginal ungulate kills; (5) impact of European diseases on aboriginal populations; and (6) synergism between aboriginal and carnivore predation. Native Americans had no effective conservation practices, and the manner in which they harvested ungulates was the exact opposite of any predicted conservation strategy. Native Americans acted in ways that maximized their individual fitness regardless of the impact on the environment. For humans, conservation is seldom an evolutionarily stable strategy. By limiting ungulate numbers and purposefully modifying the vegetation with fire, Native Americans structured entire plant and animal communities. Because ecosystems with native peoples are entirely different than those lacking aboriginal populations, a "hands-off" ...Continue Reading


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