Human activity has had immeasurable effect on the planet. While we’re all aware that climate change is our fault, we’re also having other effects on the world around us. It turns out that humans also have negative psychological impacts on our animal neighbors.
New research from the United Kingdom has shown that animals fear human “superpredators” more than any other predators.
Large predators like wolves or tigers are relatively few in healthy ecosystems, but they instill a great deal of fear—not just in their usual prey, but in smaller predators with whom they share those ecosystems. That fear helps to keep smaller predators from overhunting, because they abandon their own hunt to get away from something that might eat them.
There has been some well-founded concern that the removal of natural predators from ecosystems has removed this fear and negatively impacted those ecosystems, but the argument that humans have replaced that fear has acted as a counter. This new research finds that animals like badgers fear humans far more than creatures that might naturally prey on them.
Playing sounds from hidden speakers while badgers were feeding outside of Oxford, the researchers found that while the sounds of bears or dogs sometimes got the badgers to forego eating in order to hide, any sounds related to humans caused most badgers to go into hiding. Those few that stayed out spent much less time feeding than normal.
What this tells us is that the psychological impact of living near humans might be greater than the loss of fear from the removal of larger predators. Foxes, badgers, and other small predators that seem acclimated to humans might actually be facing significant and unnatural levels of stress while they try to survive in urban and rural environments. The full impact this might have on ecosystems remains to be seen.