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Human Ecology

The techniques for procuring food had been learned over thousands of years. Wing and Brown (1979) observed, "Not only must people eat regularly, but the cost in terms of energy expenditure of obtaining and using food cannot be greater than the energy derived from these foods." Associated with this cost is another factor . . . risk. Examples of regions that are high risk for human survival are deserts or arctic regions. Risk is also involved with the species hunted (Champion and others 1984). Since Clovis people sometimes hunted animals, such as mastodon or mammoth, the risk versus the benefits of confronting such colossal animals had to be calculated. A direct confrontation was life threatening, but the potential benefits were enormous. Hunter-gatherers needed an economical and efficient food-gathering strategy. A group must minimize cost and risk, and maximize food quantity and predictability. Innovative hunting and gathering techniques sought an optimized time, place, and harvest quantity. An annual cycle, called the "seasonal round”, was designed around seasonal changes in plant abundance and wildlife behavior (Champion and others 1984, Hudson 1976, Lee and DeVore 1968).

These successful techniques can be observed today in extremely high-risk areas such as the Kalahari Desert of Africa. In only 2 1/2 days, adult Bushmen procure food resources that exceed energy requirements for 1 week (Lee and DeVore 1968).

Cowdrey (1983) states that the "southeastern natives could live off the landscape's natural resources, using manual labor for only about one-fourth of the year's subsistence." The reported acumen of hunter-gatherers rules out any thought of their wandering aimlessly across the landscape in search of the next meal.

Humans are the only creatures on Earth that for thousands of years have reasoned, organized, and carried out plans for their survival in almost every climate on Earth. Without this ability, people would not have populated the Earth but would have remained isolated in some benign niche or even become extinct. Humans have never been mere observers of nature; they have always employed their observations to directly manipulate the environment for their benefit. This process evolved beyond mere survival but enhanced abundance for a better quality life.

Natural climatic disturbances, including fire, created diversity in the ecosystems. The disturbed areas favored many plants and trees that produced berries, nuts, or forage. Since fire was the one natural tool that could be controlled, it became the agent for modifying the landscape. Humans could now mimic natural disturbances over a large territory to enhance plant and wildlife populations for hunting and gathering.

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content: Wayne D. Carroll
webmaster: John M. Pye

created: 4-OCT-2002
modified: 08-Dec-2013