Demographic side effects of selective hunting in ungulates and carnivores

Conserv Biol. 2007 Feb;21(1):36-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00591.x.


Selective harvesting regimes are often implemented because age and sex classes contribute differently to population dynamics and hunters show preferences associated with body size and trophy value. We reviewed the literature on how such cropping regimes affect the demography of the remaining population (here termed demographic side effects). First, we examined the implications of removing a large proportion of a specific age or sex class. Such harvesting strategies often bias the population sex ratio toward females and reduce the mean age of males, which may consequently delay birth dates, reduce birth synchrony, delay body mass development, and alter offspring sex ratios. Second, we reviewed the side effects associated with the selective removal of relatively few specific individuals, often large trophy males. Such selective harvesting can destabilize social structures and the dominance hierarchy and may cause loss of social knowledge, sexually selected infanticide, habitat changes among reproductive females, and changes in offspring sex ratio. A common feature of many of the reported mechanisms is that they ultimately depress recruitment and in some extreme cases even cause total reproductive collapse. These effects could act additively and destabilize the dynamics of populations, thus having a stronger effect on population growth rate than first anticipated. Although more experimental than observational studies reported demographic side effects, we argue that this may reflect the quite subtle mechanisms involved, which are unlikely to be detected in observational studies without rigorous monitoring regimes. We call for more detailed studies of hunted populations with marked individuals that address how the expression of these effects varies across mating systems, habitats, and with population density. Theoretical models investigating how strongly these effects influence population growth rates are also required.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Demography*
  • Humans
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Sex Ratio*
  • Social Behavior*