We define human macroecology as the study of human-environment interactions across spatial and temporal scales, linking small-scale interactions with large-scale patterns. How can a macroecological approach, widely used in ecology generally, inform our understanding of human-environment interactions? We hypothesize that human macroecology provides a unique, often novel approach to understanding the ecology of Homo sapiens and an emerging research program in ecology. The subsequent talks in this symposium present examples of this approach applied to important issues relating to traditional foraging ecology, density dependence and resource use, ecosystem services, societal metabolism, pollution, and sustainability.
We consider energetic tradeoff structures at multiple scales and note that humans often conform to some common life-history patterns. Researchers have periodically investigated energetic constraints and emergent statistical trends in human cultures since at least the 1930s, but such efforts have been somewhat intermittent. Meanwhile, traditional ecologists began using large datasets to investigate patterns of distribution, abundance, and diversity across space and time, an approach now called “macroecology.” These parallel efforts continued with relatively little overlap for decades, with most work on humans coming from the social sciences. With increasing frequency of collaborative efforts across the socio-natural sciences, diverse endeavors are becoming more connected leading to more robust theories and understanding of patterning in human societies. Such cross-disciplinary efforts are now common and sufficiently germane to be considered a separate and unique research program, yielding insights into patterns of human-environment interactions and their underlying causes. Such ecological knowledge is vital to achieving goals in sustainable and conservation.