Most scientists believe that humans began to have a negative impact on species diversity relatively recently. However, new work, published in the journal Ecology Letters, shows that this process began millions of years ago. And it was not our species, Homo sapiens sapiens, who launched it, but the distant ancestors of modern man.
“The extinctions of the species that we track in the fossil record are usually attributed to climatic causes. But such changes on the African continent over the past few million years have been very minor, and climate change was clearly not the main cause of extinctions,”says Seren Farby of the University of Gothenburg, lead author of the study. “Our work shows that the most adequate explanation for the extinction of African predators is competition for food with our ancestors,” adds co-author Daniel Silvestro.
The extinction of large predators in East Africa began about four million years ago. According to researchers, around this time, our ancestors began to use the tactics of kleptoparasitism. They simply stole the prey they had just killed from the predators. This can still be seen in the wild: for example, lions often steal freshly killed prey from cheetahs.
To survive, many African predators have developed strategies to protect their prey. For example, leopards throw killed animals up a tree, and lions collectively guard their prey.
Man affects the environment today more than ever. But this does not mean at all that we used to live in complete harmony with nature. We and our ancestors learned to monopolize resources many millions of years ago, but only now can we understand this and change our behavior. The one who is strong must be kind,”concludes Farby.