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Predation vs depredation?

Kathleen Keane, April 2, 2013

It seems the terms are synonymous in most ornithological publications. I am a biologist studying the endangered Least Tern, and we generally use the term "depredation" when referring to the consumption of eggs, chicks etc. by a given predator. Can someone please enlighten me about the proper use of these terms? thank you!

Comments ( 4 )

Abram Fleishman

I too have run into this question. The American Heritage Dictionary says the following:

depredation |ˌdeprəˈdā sh ən| noun (usu. depredations) an act of attacking or plundering : protecting grain from the depredations of rats and mice. ORIGIN late 15th cent. (in the sense [plundering, robbery,] (plural) [ravages] ): from French déprédation, from late Latin depraedatio(n-), from depraedari ‘plunder.’

predation |priˈdā sh ən| noun Zoology the preying of one animal on others : an effective defense against predation. ORIGIN late 15th cent. (in the Latin sense): from Latin praedatio(n-) ‘taking of booty,’ from the verb praedari ‘seize as plunder,’ from praeda ‘booty.’ The current sense dates from the 1930s.

Mark Tasker

Mark Tasker

This is a good question and one seen many times previously. I think the main issue is around the verb "to predate" as this seems to have two meanings in English as currently used. The first is (approximately) "to come before" as in "literature reference x predates literature reference y", while the other means "to catch, kill, eat" etc. In order to avoid this confusion, I prefer "depredate" for the latter, but English is a very forgiving language and I think both can be understood in context. The derivatives of the verb "predation, predator" are secondary (as indicated by the American Heritage Dictionary).

Jim Reid

I think you can use either. The real issue I think is "predate" vs "depredate". "Predate" means to come before in time etc and doesn't mean "to prey upon", the correct word for which is "depredate". That's been my long-standing understanding and the usage I've encouraged down the years. I checked Chambers Dictionary and it concurs! Alas, however, language evolves...

Grant RW Humphries

Grant RW Humphries

The following post is from Tony Diamond:

Pre-dating versus depredating; and auk wrecks in North Atlantic

Regarding this continuing debate; if we would go back to using hyphens, this would be so much easier! "Pre-dating" would be obviously different from "predating". Even without hyphenation, "predation" the noun can surely not be confusing anyway, there being no noun equivalent of the verb "pre-dating".

On to more pressing issues: in the NW Atlantic we have had/are having an unprecedented winter for auks; Razorbills turning up in large numbers in Florida (even the Gulf of Mexico coast) where there had historically been only a handful of records; several severe storms bringing many auks (puffins, razorbills, both murres, dovekies) ashore in Cape Cod, many dead or moribund; and a wreck of dovekies in Newfoundland, Is anyone with good oceanography connections aware of (a) what might be behind these events in terms of current anomalies, atmospheric patterns; and (b) any likely connection with the puffin wreck in eastern Scotland about the same time as that on Cape Cod?

Tony Diamond

A.W. Diamond,Ph.D. University of New Brunswick P.O. Box 4400, Fredericton NB Canada E3B 5A3