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Hunting stunts evolution

by Felicia Di Palma February 3, 2009

Hunting and fishing is being blamed for negative effects on the evolution of wild animals, according to a new study.
Unlike predators in the wild, who tend to target smaller, younger or weaker animals, human hunters typically go after the biggest prey. As well nets used in fishing allow smaller fish to escape, capturing the largest fish. According to the study, “Human Predators Outpace Other Agents of Trait Change in the Wild,” this leaves only the smaller and younger fish and animals to reproduce.
The study’s lead author Chris Dairmont, of the University of California, said animals are reproducing 25 per cent earlier. This has caused the size of prey animals to shrink by almost 20 per cent.
The study, published earlier this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was put together by researchers at several universities throughout the United States and Canada and focused on 29 species of fish, animals – including snails and plants.
Big horned sheep were one of the animal species included in the study.
Suzan Moulton of the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretative Center in Wyoming said there is a big difference in size between the skulls of bighorn sheep in her museum – one of which dates back almost 100 years, and the skulls of bighorn sheep today.
Trophies are what most hunters aim for, looking for the largest animals – and horns, they can find. According to the study, this trophy hunting which kills the biggest and healthiest animals, which would be the most successful against other animals, is one of the main causes of the negative effects on evolution.
What would help the animals? According to the study, telling people not to hunt is unrealistic. However, if hunters would only hunt what they eat and not over-hunt that would help. But the biggest change that should be made is hunting for smaller caribous, sheep, etc.
“Hunters know animals and are putting money in habitats,” Moulton said. “Prey-predator relationship; it’s part of what makes nature stick.”

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