The Atlantic

Humans Have Unleashed a ‘Landscape of Fear’

By killing the biggest animals, we’ve allowed smaller and more vulnerable species to remodel the terrain.  
Source: Thomas Mukoya / Reuters

The more humans have flourished, the more the biggest animals have not. We have always hunted large mammals, downsizing the fauna of whatever continent we happen to visit. Mammoths, woolly rhinos, ground sloths—all gone. In slaying these giants, we have remade the world in ways that we are only starting to appreciate. We have, for example, made it easier for fear to sculpt the land.

Predators instill fear in their prey. Even without actually killing a state of simmering stress and unease. This anxiety influences how predators’ targets take stock of the landscape around them. Open areas, with long lines of sight and plentiful paths down which to flee, offer safety. Overgrown areas, with obscuring foliage and tripping obstacles, are dangerous. Ecologists call this the “”—a psychological map that prey rely on to assess the risks of their surroundings.

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