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ScienceNostalgia101

How unstable an equilibrium can animal populations become?

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Many people in favour of hunting as well as many against it alike seem to agree that hunting practices from the past brought too many species to the brink of extinction.

 

Yet while hunting is supposedly so often the problem... it's also supposedly often the solution. The reasoning follows directly from the food chain itself; you drive down the population of a predatory species, all the animals they used to prey on thrive, and now you have to take their place as the new predator. You drive down the population of a prey species, and the animals that used to prey on them starve... driving up the population of the other animals they preyed on. And again, now you have to take their place as the new predator.

 

One thing that stood out to me in undergraduate math is that in almost every course, the real-world examples they picked drew from physics and chemistry; with the sole exception of differential equations, which had a strong emphasis on animal populations. I do not recall the precise examples, but they used differential equations to represent both the positive feedback loops (more of that species, more of them can breed) and negative feedback loops (more of that species, more of them can be preyed upon; or if predator species, more strain on prey populations). I can only imagine how much more complicated it gets for all the interactions between different prey species preyed upon by the same predator species.

 

And yet, you know there are biases in either direction. You know the anti-hunting types will be biased against the idea of killing such adorable creatures, and you know the pro-hunting types will be biased against the idea of killing good-paying jobs. (Or, failing employability as one, a good source of food.) So how can we hope to get around such biases to determine when, where, why, or how, a particular hunt against a particular species at a particular point in time, will do more harm or good? And if we were to ban hunting altogether, would nature eventually recover from us, or would our prior perturbation of nature's delicate balance eventually drive whole species to extinction that could've been saved from extinction by hunting, and wouldn't have been driven to extinction if humans didn't exist?

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1 hour ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

 And if we were to ban hunting altogether, would nature eventually recover from us, or would our prior perturbation of nature's delicate balance eventually drive whole species to extinction that could've been saved from extinction by hunting, and wouldn't have been driven to extinction if humans didn't exist?

Is "delicate balance" a truth or a colorful myth?

Can you offer up some examples of extinctions that have been (or could be) saved by hunting? (Preferably where other human action isn't a major factor; because hunting isn't the only human activity with huge impact)

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Also, most extinctions are driven by habitat loss, which impacts prey and predator...

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The specific examples that come to mind where the role of hunting in the ecosystem is disputed are seal hunting and wolf hunting. But I presume to those more familiar there are more examples. There are so many reasons for bias in each direction it's not clear how if at all one can cut through the fog.

 

I'm aware hunting isn't the only factor, the only question is whether hunting can be not only beneficial, but necessary, to prevent the unstable equilibrium we destabilized (whether through hunting or otherwise) from destabilizing any further.

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11 minutes ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

the only question is whether hunting can be not only beneficial, but necessary, to prevent the unstable equilibrium we destabilized (whether through hunting or otherwise) from destabilizing any further.

It depends on the circumstances. Details matter. What is the environment and ecosystem under discussion? What prey and predatory animals are under discussion? The answer will differ based on those details. There is no "one size fits all" answer. 

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Well, if there is no one size fits all answer, does that mean that, at least in theory, hunting can be a not only valuable but vital ingredient in repairing the damage we've done, and anti-hunting activists who make such generalizing statements as "humans need to take a hands-off approach to nature from now on" tarnish their own credibility?

Edited by ScienceNostalgia101

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17 minutes ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

The specific examples that come to mind where the role of hunting in the ecosystem is disputed are seal hunting and wolf hunting. But I presume to those more familiar there are more examples. There are so many reasons for bias in each direction it's not clear how if at all one can cut through the fog.

How are either of those examples of species that "could've been saved from extinction by hunting"

 

Quote

I'm aware hunting isn't the only factor, the only question is whether hunting can be not only beneficial, but necessary, to prevent the unstable equilibrium we destabilized (whether through hunting or otherwise) from destabilizing any further.

How does an unstable equilibrium become destabilized? It wasn't stable to begin with, by definition.

55 minutes ago, CharonY said:

Also, most extinctions are driven by habitat loss, which impacts prey and predator...

Yes, and to my earlier comment, a lot of that is from human influence. I don't see the point of the OP singling out hunting when there are other influences

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Poor choice of words on my part, granted. I meant more severely so.

 

Those examples were only of where the role of hunting was disputed. I cannot think of examples in favour of or against the more generalizable "we need to take a hands off approach from now on" point. (Although in involving the food chain, the seal hunt one comes... relatively closer.)

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5 minutes ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

does that mean that, at least in theory, hunting can be a not only valuable but vital ingredient in repairing the damage we've done, and anti-hunting activists who make such generalizing statements as "humans need to take a hands-off approach to nature from now on" tarnish their own credibility?

It depends. You need to be far more specific about the actual circumstances and species and protest involved. 

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7 minutes ago, iNow said:

It depends. You need to be far more specific about the actual circumstances and species and protest involved. 

Not really. "Humans need to take a hands-off approach to nature from now on" (I don't recall the exact wording, but I've heard rhetoric similar to that from activists on the news) is a general statement, and therefore should be addressed as such. If it doesn't apply generally, they should've worded it in a way that doesn't imply it applies generally.

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Talk to their marketing and PR departments, then. 

Or just chalk it up to human laziness when typing. 

What's the point of this thread, again?

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To determine whether or not a situation can exist in which hunting is not only beneficial, but possibly vital, to reversing the damage we've done.

 

Since this has been determined to be possible, I see no harm in dropping the matter.

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4 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

To determine whether or not a situation can exist in which hunting is not only beneficial, but possibly vital, to reversing the damage we've done.

 

Since this has been determined to be possible

It has? What was the situation?

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19 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

To determine whether or not a situation can exist in which hunting is not only beneficial, but possibly vital, to reversing the damage we've done.

I think the biggest problem is defining beneficial.  Humans generally consider extinction a terrible thing, but it can also be thought of a beneficial thing.  I'm ok that dinosaurs became extinct since if they didn't I wouldn't be a writing this.  If all hunting stopped I imagine many animal species such as deer would multiply until they over grazed the land and there was a massive die off and then a new equilibrium population would be established.  This would be very beneficial to Turkey Vultures and other carrion eaters.

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That's noteworthy as well. I'm guessing the average environmentalist is aware that environmentalism is primarily on behalf of human beings, not animals, but some environmentalists seem to take "save the planet" way too literally and think we are obligated not to do anything that could harm animals whatsoever, even though on an individual level these animals would've harmed each other anyway.

 

Come to think of it, the "'save the planet" mantra was a mistake too. Why the hell do people go along with these nonsensical phrases?

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