Linking humans to food webs

October 10, 2018

Food web diagram and fish
Although fisheries have a huge impact on ecosystems and food webs, human behaviour as expressed thru fisheries practices have rarely been explicitly linked to food webs in fishery studies. Whereas aquatic food webs would normally include various species of fish, aquatic insects, and plant life, a so-called “fishery food web” would be similar with the added twist of human fishers as top predators.

Bieg et al. (2018) recognized the importance of examining fishery food webs due to the effects of different fishing practices on biodiversity, ecosystem stability, and food security. Using data from in-land fisheries (i.e., lake and river fisheries), the authors developed a conceptual framework for classifying the behaviours of human fishers based on the impacts they are having on fishery food webs. Framed in ecological terms, these impacts could be similar to the effects of either a generalist or specialist predator or somewhere in between. For instance, highly selective fisheries targeting a single species would be similar to a specialist predator whereas less selective harvesting of multiple species would be similar to a generalist.

Bieg et al. (2018) also used geographical information and the Human Development Index (HDI) to assess fishing practices on a global scale. They found that fishing communities in developing countries behave more as generalists since they are more likely to harvest a higher proportion of the species of fish present in a given lake or river system. In other words, they are more closely linked to aquatic food webs than are fishing communities in more developed countries.

The framework put forth by Bieg et al. (2018) helps set the stage to further our understanding of fishery impacts on a global scale and can be used in developing management objectives and approaches to safeguard in-land aquatic ecosystems.


Read the article here (journal subscription required):



Bieg C, McCann KS, McMeans BC, Rooney, N, Holtgrieve GW, Lek S, Bun NP, Krishna BKC, Fraser E. (2018) Linking humans to food webs: a framework for classification of global fisheries. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 16(7):412-420.