Humans and Scavengers: The Evolution of Interactions and Ecosystem Services
Since the origin of early Homo species during the Late Pliocene, interactions of humans with scavenging birds and mammals have changed in form through shifting ecological scenarios. How humans procured meat during the Quaternary Period changed from confrontational scavenging to hunting; shepherding of wild animals; and, eventually, intensive husbandry of domesticated animals. As humans evolved from carcass consumers to carcass providers, the overall relationship between humans and scavengers shifted from competition to facilitation. These changing interactions have translated into shifting provisioning (by signaling carcass location), regulating (e.g., by removing animal debris and controlling infectious diseases), and cultural ecosystem services (e.g., by favoring human language and social cooperation skills or, more recently, by enhancing ecotourism) provided by scavenging vertebrates. The continued survival of vultures and large mammalian scavengers alongside humans is now severely in jeopardy, threatening the loss of the numerous ecosystem services from which contemporary and future humans could benefit.