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February 20 2012

No Omnivore’s Dilemma for Alaskan Hunter-Gatherers

VANCOUVER, CANADA—For most of the past 5000 years, the hunter-gatherers known as the Aleuts have lived on Sanak Island off the southern coast of Alaska, surviving on the local fish and marine mammals they caught as well as clams and mussels collected in the intertidal zone around their island. Now after constructing some of the most elaborate food webs ever built, a research team has begun to reveal how the Aleuts fit in as a top predator in the island ecosystem. In short, the Aleuts weren’t picky eaters, consuming about one-quarter of the different species on and around Sanak Island. But by being such “supergeneralists”, the research team suggests, they were likely able to keep the ecosystem stable because they would switch prey when a particular species became endangered, and thus harder to catch or collect.

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