food waste found to be detrimental to ecosystems

food waste found to be detrimental to ecosystems

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Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have discovered further evidence of the damage that human food waste has on natural ecosystem functioning. In particular, carnivores seem to be especially affected more so than other taxa. Carnivorous species that live near people have been shown to source a large portion of their diets from anthropogenic (human-derived) sources than natural sources.

More specifically, the researchers learned that these carnivores depend on human food for more than 50% of their diet – a number that could implicate serious risks for North America’s “carnivore-dominated ecosystems.”

An In-Depth Look at Wildlife Eating Patterns Near Human Landscapes

The team analyzed the diets belonging to seven distinct predatory species living near the Great Lakes. To uncover the details of their eating habits, the researchers collected fur and bone samples found in both natural and urbanized landscapes. As one might expect, the results showed that the closer a carnivore lived to a human-dominated area, the more “people food” they consumed.

On average, over 25% of animals’ diets were comprised of human food, with observable variations between species including coyotes, foxes, fishers, and martens.

One researcher, Manlick, stated, “… [They’re] getting upwards of 50 percent of their diet from human foods… That’s a relatively shocking number, I think.”

Why Wildlife Should Not Be Eating “People Food”

So, why is this such a problem? Shouldn’t we be glad they’re getting food. No. Not at all. Naturally, animals (including us) have evolved to compete for our resources. All living things recognize that food, water, and shelter are finite, and that they must do all in their power to acquire and maintain these necessities for their survival and reproduction.

With human food in abundance, this creates an unhealthy reliance in wildlife on anthropogenic resources, a dependence that will inevitably stir up conflict with other species and human beings. This new development will also create an imbalance in ecological relationships between predatory and prey species, which can be profoundly detrimental to a vast array of flora and fauna.

Both citizens and scientists need to improve our behaviors in consideration of how our actions influence the patterns and ecological structures surrounding us. If we do not, North American ecosystems could have a dire future ahead.

In the words of another member of the research team, Pauli: “When you change the landscape so dramatically in terms of one of the most important attributes of a species – their food – that has unknown consequences for the overall community structure… And so I think the onus is now on us as ecologists and conservation biologists to begin to understand these novel ecosystems and begin to predict who are the winners and who are the losers.”


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