On the risk of pathogens carried by hypermobile human predators

There is a body of research that shows how predators can affect the spread of disease among prey. We also know that human hunters are a special variety of predator. What does this mean for the spread of infectious disease by human hunters? 

Movements by non-human predators are constrained, in part, by the bioenergetics of predators and the distance a predator can travel in effective hunting. For post-industrial human hunters, however, travel distances are significantly lengthened. And the special capacity of hunters to travel long distances raises interesting questions about the movement of infectious disease. 

In a recent commentary published in Nature Human Behaviour, “Hypermobile human predators,” Raincoast scientists Chris Darimont and Heather Bryan raise questions regarding potential differences between human hunters and other predators with respect to the potential for disease transmission in prey populations [icon icon=”external-link”] and point out a need for further research. 

Their article comments on novel research by Atle Mysterud, et. al, entitled , “The unique spatial ecology of human hunters.” Darimont and Bryan raise salient policy questions for wildlife conservation management, and point out that “a scientific and management response should match the risk and severity of potential impacts.”

“Although disease dynamics of prey are influenced by predator behaviour, little is known about the potential effects of wide-ranging post-industrial hunters. Mysterud et al. describe the movement behaviour of Norwegian hunters using more than 165,000 hunting records from 2001–2017, showing that hunters migrate to and from areas of high prey density, potentially moving pathogens into previously unaffected areas.”

Chris Darimont and Heather Bryan, 2020


Darimont, C.T., Bryan, H.M. Hypermobile human predators. Nat Hum Behav (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0841-x

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-020-0841-x.epdf [icon icon=”external-link“]

The unique spatial ecology of human hunters

Mysterud, A., Rivrud, I.M., Gundersen, V. et al. The unique spatial ecology of human hunters. Nat Hum Behav (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0836-7

“With modern technology, human hunters are no longer restricted to hunt close to their settlement. The patterns of broad hunter movements relative to residency and prey densities have implications for wildlife management – posing a hazard for spread of wildlife diseases.”

Atle Mysterud Mar 18, 2020

Figure 2

Figure two: Travel networks of human hunters relative to population density of prey.
Fig. 2 | Travel networks of human hunters relative to population density of prey. a–d, Travel networks of hunters of reindeer (a), red deer (b), moose (c) and roe deer (d) in Norway, with the background showing population density of reindeer, red deer, moose and roe deer at the scales of municipality in Norway. e, Movements of big game hunters from Norway into the rest of Europe and back (at the scale of municipality in Norway, of county in Sweden and of the centre point of the country in the rest of Europe). f, Movements of hunters coming from abroad to hunt in Norway.

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Photo by Dene Rossouw.