Humans are Like Deer in the Anthropocene

I asked Rooney about the remarkable ability of deer to thrive in their home range—most of the U.S.—while producing ecosystem simplification and a biodiversity crash. In his own studies of deer habitats in Wisconsin, Rooney found that only a few types of grass thrive under a deer-dominant regime. The rest, amounting to around 80 percent of native Wisconsin plant species, had been eradicated. “The 80 percent represent the disappearance of 300 million years of evolutionary history,” he said. He looked deflated.


Kolankiewicz offered a perverse angle of hope for the human race in the midst of this carnage. Loss of biodiversity may not threaten the survival of our species. “Hypothetically, we could survive for quite some time on a simplified planet,” said Kolankiewicz. “Deer are a good analogy. Throughout human history, populations have invaded and colonized new ecosystems, hunted and displaced other species, have caused massive losses of biodiversity, and went on to survive in these depauperate settings.”

Take the human invasion of North America circa 13,000 years ago, when the wise ape, adept with deadly technology and savvy in methods of cooperative hunting, succeeded in wiping out in a few hundred years the megafauna that had ranged across the continent for hundreds of millennia. North American man went on to stake his home ground and thrive on a continent shorn of its most majestic predators and herbivores. Take the examples of the rise and remarkable success of every large-scale agricultural civilization in pre-modern history, from the Mayans in the Americas to Egypt and Sumer and China. These civilizations, with high population densities, commandeered vast raw resources—land, space, soil, water, nutrients—for the intensive cultivation of grain crops, and biodiversity was clobbered in the march of progress. They thrived for hundreds of years—until collapse was precipitated by the usual factor: their own too-muchness, the breaching of the limits of carrying capacity, their home overwhelmed.

The optimist, surveying our advances of the last century, has only to smile and conclude that we have happily launched ourselves beyond the constraints of carrying capacity. If human population doubled between 1804 and 1927, and doubled again between 1927 and 1974, and almost doubled again to 6.9 billion today, with the latest forecasts projecting more than 10 billion people by 2100, we can look to nanotechnology, genetically modified crops, antibiotic feed supplements for livestock, more efficient transportation networks, unconventional oil deposits, safe nuclear energy, wind and solar arrays, smart grids, and much else in the techno-arsenal to keep the human species from crashing. In the perennial face of collapse, “innovation resets the clock,” said Geoffrey West, a physicist, and expert in social systems, at the Santa Fe Institute. How long can the clock of innovation tick? Who can say? Again and again, time has proven the Malthusian pessimists wrong. Like the deer without its predators, Homo sapiens has remade its home range to its benefit.


Folksonomies: environmentalism ecology adaptationism

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 What the Deer Are Telling Us
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  KETCHAM, CHRISTOPHER (APRIL 9, 2015), What the Deer Are Telling Us, Retrieved on 2015-04-09
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  • Folksonomies: environmentalism adaptation