Science publishes Sandweiss, Maasch perspective on how El Niño influences fauna presence, human predation

The journal Science published a perspective paper by University of Maine researchers Daniel Sandweiss and Kirk Maasch about how El Niño influences the presence of fauna and human predation of it.

In their piece, Sandweiss, a professor in the Anthropology Department and Climate Change Institute, and Maasch, a professor in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences and the Climate Change Institute, review and expound on a research report also published in the latest edition of Science that evaluates the effects of El Niño on vertebrate marine fauna and human exploitation of it over 12,000 years.

The lead author of the paper Jack Broughton, chair of the University of Utah Anthropology Department, and his colleagues analyzed faunal remains from Abrigo de los Escorpiones in Baja California, Mexico, and compared them with a proxy record for past El Niño events. They found that human activity increased and fauna was highly variable when El Niño events were infrequent 5,000 to 7,000 years ago, but fauna became stable and human activity declined when the area experienced five El Niño events in a century.

Sandweiss and Maasch compared the study with earlier research into the influence of El Niño on marine life in areas along the Pacific Ocean, including a previous study they conducted that revealed that the reorganization of molluscan and fish fauna in coastal Peru occurred during increased El Niño events 5,800 and 2,900 years ago. The new report, they said, helps expand scientists’ understanding of how fauna respond to El Niño activity and inspires the need for further research into how these events influence other resources deemed vital to human civilization.

“El Niño is sometimes called ‘the naughty child’ because of the climate-driven disaster it often brings,” Sandweiss and Maasch wrote. “If the past is the key to the future, studies such as that of Brougton et al. offer tools for better predicting what this naught child may do in the coming centuries.”