Human activities change marine ecosystems by altering predation risk

Glob Chang Biol. 2016 Jan;22(1):44-60. doi: 10.1111/gcb.13083. Epub 2015 Oct 8.


In ocean ecosystems, many of the changes in predation risk - both increases and decreases - are human-induced. These changes are occurring at scales ranging from global to local and across variable temporal scales. Indirect, risk-based effects of human activity are known to be important in structuring some terrestrial ecosystems, but these impacts have largely been neglected in oceans. Here, we synthesize existing literature and data to explore multiple lines of evidence that collectively suggest diverse human activities are changing marine ecosystems, including carbon storage capacity, in myriad ways by altering predation risk. We provide novel, compelling evidence that at least one key human activity, overfishing, can lead to distinct, cascading risk effects in natural ecosystems whose magnitude exceeds that of presumed lethal effects and may account for previously unexplained findings. We further discuss the conservation implications of human-caused indirect risk effects. Finally, we provide a predictive framework for when human alterations of risk in oceans should lead to cascading effects and outline a prospectus for future research. Given the speed and extent with which human activities are altering marine risk landscapes, it is crucial that conservation and management policy considers the indirect effects of these activities in order to increase the likelihood of success and avoid unfortunate surprises.

Keywords: Predator-prey interactions; behaviour; fishing; human impacts; indirect effects; marine ecosystem; nonconsumptive effects; nonlethal effects; predation risk; risk effects; trophic cascades.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carbon
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fisheries
  • Human Activities
  • Humans
  • Marine Biology
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Predatory Behavior*
  • Risk Assessment


  • Carbon