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Encyclopedia > Carrying capacity

The supportable population of an organism, given the food, habitat, water and other necessities available within an ecosystem is known as the ecosystem's carrying capacity for that organism. For the human population more complex variables such as sanitation and medical care are sometimes considered as part of the necessary infrastructure. Domains and Kingdoms Nanobes Acytota Cytota Bacteria Neomura Archaea Eukaryota Bikonta Apusozoa Rhizaria Excavata Archaeplastida Rhodophyta Glaucophyta Plantae Heterokontophyta Haptophyta Cryptophyta Alveolata Unikonta Amoebozoa Opisthokonta Choanozoa Fungi Animalia An ericoid mycorrhizal fungus Life on Earth redirects here. ... Habitat (which is Latin for it inhabits) is the place where a particular species live and grow. ... Tap water Mineral Water Water of sufficient quality to serve as drinking water is termed potable water whether it is used as such or not. ... E. Coli bacteria under magnification Sanitation is the hygienic disposal or recycling of waste, as well as the policy and practice of protecting health through hygienic measures. ...

As population density increases, birth rate often decrease and death rates typically increase. The difference between the birth rate and the death rate is the "natural increase." The carrying capacity could support a positive natural increase, or could require a negative natural increase. Carrying capacity is thus the number of individuals an environment can support without significant negative impacts to the given organism and its environment. A factor that keeps population size at equilibrium is known as a regulating factor. The origins of the term lie in its use in the shipping industry to describe freight capacity, and a recent review finds the first use of the term in an 1845 report by the US Secretary of State to the Senate (Sayre, 2007). Mortality rate is the annual number of deaths per 1000 people. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ...

Below carrying capacity, populations typically increase, while above, they typically decrease. Population size decreases above carrying capacity due to a range of factors depending on the species concerned, but can include insufficient space, food supply, or sunlight. The carrying capacity of an environment may vary for different species and may change over time due to a variety of factors including: food availability; water supply; environmental conditions; and living space. For other uses, see Species (disambiguation). ... Food distribution is a vital factor in public nutrition. ... Prism splitting light High Resolution Solar Spectrum Sunlight in the broad sense is the total spectrum of the electromagnetic radiation given off by the Sun. ... Water supply is the process of self-provision or provision by third parties of water of various qualities to different users. ...


Temporary exceptions

It is possible for a species to exceed its carrying capacity temporarily. Population variance occurs as part of the natural selection process but may occur more dramatically in some instances. Due to a variety of factors a determinant of carrying capacity may lag behind another. A waste product of a species, for example, may build up to toxic levels more slowly than the food supply is exhausted. The result is a fluctuation in the population around the equilibrium point that is statistically significant. These fluctuations are increases or decreases in the population until either the population returns to the original equilibrium point or a new one is established. These fluctuations may be more devastating for an ecosystem compared to gradual population corrections since if it produces drastic decreases or increases the overall effect on the ecosystem may be such that other species within the ecosystem are in turn affected and begin to move with statistical significance around their equilibrium points. The fear is a domino like effect where the final consequences are unknown and may lead to collapses of certain species or whole ecosystems. For other uses, see Natural selection (disambiguation). ...


The moose and wolf population of Isle Royale National Park [1] in Lake Superior is one of the world's best studied predator-prey relationships. Without the wolves, the moose would overgraze the island's vegetation. Without the moose, the wolves would die. The first scientists who studied the issue thought that the wolves would eventually overpopulate and kill all the moose calves and then die from famine. This outcome has not occurred, however, and in fact the wolves appear to be "limiting their own population size". For other uses, see Moose (disambiguation). ... Wolf Wolf Man Mount Wolf Wolf Prizes Wolf Spider Wolf 424 Wolf 359 Wolf Point Wolf-herring Frank Wolf Friedrich Wolf Friedrich August Wolf Hugo Wolf Johannes Wolf Julius Wolf Max Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf Maximilian Wolf Rudolf Wolf Thomas Wolf As Name Wolf Breidenbach Wolf Hirshorn Other The call... Isle Royale National Park is a U.S. National Park in the state of Michigan. ...

Easter Island has been cited as an example of a human population crash. When fewer than 100 humans first arrived, the island was covered with trees with a large variety of food types, in 1722 the island was visited by Jacob Roggeveen, who estimated two to three thousand inhabitants with very few trees, "a rich soil, good climate" and "all the county was under cultivation". Half a century later it was described as "a poor land" and "largely uncultivated". The ecological collapse that followed has been variously attributed to overpopulation, slave raiders, European diseases including a Smallpox epidemic that killed so many the dead were left unburied and a Tuberculosis epidemic that killed a quarter of the population, civil war, cannibalism, and invasive species (such as the Polynesian rats that may have wiped out the ground nesting birds and eat the palm tree seeds). Whatever the combination of reasons, only 111 inhabitants were left on the island in 1877. For whatever reason: Moai worship, survival, status, or pure ignorance, the question of how many humans the island could comfortably support never seems to have come up. Rapa Nui redirects here. ... Jacob Roggeveen (January 1659 - 31 January 1729) was a Dutch explorer who was sent to find Terra Australis, but he instead discovered Easter Island by chance. ... Ecology is the branch of science that studies the distribution and abundance of living organisms, and the interactions between organisms and their environment. ... Map of countries by population density (See List of countries by population density. ... This article is about the disease. ... Tuberculosis (abbreviated as TB for tubercle bacillus or Tuberculosis) is a common and deadly infectious disease caused by mycobacteria, mainly Mycobacterium tuberculosis. ... Cannibal redirects here. ... Lantana invasion of abandoned citrus plantation; Moshav Sdey Hemed, Israel The term invasive species refers to a subset of introduced species or non-indigenous species that are rapidly expanding outside of their native range. ... Binomial name Rattus exulans (Peale, 1848) The Polynesian Rat or Pacific Rat (Rattus exulans), known to the Maori as Kiore, is the third most widespread species of rat in the world behind the Brown Rat and Black Rat. ... Ahu Tongariki, restored by Chilean archaeologist Claudio Cristino in the 1990s This is about the statues of Easter Island, for the seamount see Moai (seamount) Main article: Easter Island Moai (or mo‘ai) are monolithic human figures carved from rock on the Polynesian island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), mostly...

The Chincoteague Pony Swim [2] is a human assisted example. The Chincoteague pony is a hardy breed between the size of a horse and a pony. ...

Both herds are managed differently. The National Park Service owns and manages the Maryland herd while the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company owns and manages the Virginia herd. The Virginia herd, referred to as the "Chincoteague" ponies, is allowed to graze on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, through a special use permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The size of both herds is restricted to approximately 150 adult animals each in order to protect the other natural resources of the wildlife refuge. Official language(s) None (English, de facto) Capital Annapolis Largest city Baltimore Largest metro area Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area Area  Ranked 42nd  - Total 12,407 sq mi (32,133 km²)  - Width 101 miles (145 km)  - Length 249 miles (400 km)  - % water 21  - Latitude 37° 53′ N to 39° 43′ N... The USFWS logo The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is a unit of the United States Department of the Interior that is dedicated to managing and preserving wildlife. ...

A further example is the Island of Tarawa, [1] where the finite amount of space is evident, especially since landfills cannot be dug to dispose of solid waste, due to constraints in the subsurface rock and lack of topographic elevations. With colonial influence and an abundance of food (relative to life before the year 1850), the population has expanded to the extent that overpopulation is transparently present[2]. Map of the Tarawa atoll Tarawa is an atoll in the central Pacific Ocean, previously the capital of the former British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. ... Map of countries by population density (See List of countries by population density. ...

Fertility and carrying capacity interaction

If food supply of the environment is abundant, in humans for example, twinning may result [3]. As a result, parents then typically devote less care to each offspring in other ways as well, as the young may manage on their own with abundant food supply. Such parents have as many offspring as possible by starting early and quickly repeating breeding. When environmental conditions deteriorate with an expanding population, they may K-shift (resort to small numbers of offspring) toward the more conservative strategy of betting on a few well-placed shots. When a species is already exploiting the environment near the limits of carrying capacity (which includes food availability but also nesting sites etc.), a wise strategy is to produce a limited number of offspring, devoting considerable care to each. Map of countries by population density (See List of countries by population density. ...

Since this also applies to humans, then two questions immediately arise: How is the "boom time" r-shift (resort to large numbers of offspring) implemented? (Is sexual maturity sped up, or is juvenile growth rate, or perhaps both?) And is the trigger, what aspects of the environment are "read" for the forecast? If one is ever to replace this corner-cutting "Quantity is Better than Quality" philosophy and effectively combat its fatalistic "Life is Cheap" corollary, we need to understand what drives it (the "hangover" that follows a reproductive "binge" is better known as a population crash).


For a specific case example in the wild, see the Lotka-Volterra equation, which shows how limited resources will cause the predator population to decline due to famine. Note that depending on the situation, the impact of famine could be moderate (e.g. the prey is not the main source of food for the predator), or extreme (e.g. the prey becomes extinct due to over-predation, such as when humans stressed mammoth populations over the brink of extinction; if the prey is the only source of food, the predator will also suffer severe famine or become extinct). The Lotka-Volterra equations, also known as the predator-prey equations, are a pair of first order, non-linear, differential equations frequently used to describe the dynamics of biological systems in which two species interact, one a predator and one its prey. ... This article is about the genus Mammuthus. ...


In the words of one researcher: "Over the past three decades, many scholars have offered detailed critiques of carrying capacity--particularly its formal application--by pointing out that the term does not successfully capture the multi-layered processes of the human-environment link, and that it often has a blame-the-victim framework. These scholars most often cite the fluidity and non-equilibrium nature of this relationship, and the role of external forces in influencing environmental change, as key problems with the term."[4]

In other words, the relationship of humans to their environment may be more complex than is the relationship of other species to theirs. Humans can alter the type and degree of their impact on their environment by, for example, increasing the productivity of land through more intensive farming techniques, leaving a defined local area, or scaling back their consumption: of course, humans may also irreversibly decrease the productivity of the environment or increase consumption (e.g. overconsumption).

Supporters of the concept argue that humans, like every species, have a finite carrying capacity. Animal population size, living standards, and resource depletion vary, but the concept of carrying capacity still applies. The World3 model of Donella Meadows deals with carrying capacity at its core. The World3 model was a computer simulation of interactions between population, industrial growth, food production and limits in the ecosystems of the Earth. ... Donella Dana Meadows (March 13, 1941 Elgin, Illinois, USA - February 20, 2001, New Hampshire) was a pioneering environmental scientist, a teacher and writer. ...

Carrying capacity on its most basic level is about organisms and food supply: X amount of humans need Y amount of food to survive. If the humans neither gain or lose weight in the long run the calculation is fairly accurate. If the quantity of food is constant at Y amount, carrying capacity has been reached.

Humans with the need to enhance their reproductive success (see Richard Dawkins 'the Selfish Gene') understand that food supply can vary and also that other factors in the environment can alter humans' need for food. A house for example might mean one does not need to eat as much to stay warm. The Selfish Gene is a book on evolution by Richard Dawkins, published in 1976. ...

Over time monetary transactions have replaced barter and local production. However, purchases impact regions thousands of miles away. Carbon dioxide from an automobile, for example, travels to the upper atmosphere. This lead Paul R. Ehrlich to develop the IPAT equation: Carbon dioxide (chemical formula: ) is a chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom. ... Paul Ralph Ehrlich (born May 29, 1932 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is a Stanford University professor and a renowned entomologist specializing in Lepidoptera (butterflies). ...

I = P * A * T


I is the impact on the environment resulting from consumption
P is the population number
A is the consumption per capita (affluence)
T is the technology factor

(Ehrlich and Holdren 1971)

This is another way of stating the carrying capacity equation for humans that substitutes impact for resource depletion and adds the technology term to cover different living standards. As can be seen from the equation money affects carrying capacity, but it is too general a term for accurate carrying capacity calculation.

The concept of Ecological footprint was developed to examine differential consumption by humans. By calculating the average consumption of humans over a small area, projections can be made for that type of population's impact on the environment.

Carrying capacity 'averages' the blame for these impacts. It blames the rich for using too many resources, as well as the poor for being too numerous. Carrying capacity calculates the 'average' use of food and resources, which is closer to the billions of poor in the world, than the hundreds of billionaires.

This type of discussion raises the question of whether it is possible to define a measure of sustainability that does not already contain implicit assumptions about the solution to the problem of resource over-use and environmental degradation. The Earth Day flag includes a NASA photo. ...

Reduction of Earth's carrying capacity in the 21st century

After an expansion of agricultural capability on the Earth in the last quarter of the 20th century, there are many projections of a continuation of the decline in world agricultural capability (and hence carrying capacity) that began in the 1990s. Most conspicuously China is forecast to decline in food production by 37 percent by the last half of the 21st century, placing a strain on the entire carrying capacity of the world as China's population will have expanded to about 1.5 billion people by the year 2050.[5] This reduction in agricultural capability in China (as in other world regions) is largely due to the world Water crisis, especially due to mining groundwater beyond sustainable yield, which process has been occurring in China since the mid 20th century.[6] Deforestation of the Madagascar Highland Plateau has led to extensive siltation and unstable flows of western rivers. ... Groundwater is water located beneath the ground surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of lithologic formations. ...

Possible expansion of carrying capacity

Not all social scientists and demographers are convinced of an imminent carrying capacity crisis for humans. The Danish economist Ester Boserup has shown how technological developments in agriculture can increase carrying capacity, though not without limitations. Her work is summarized in the AAAS Population & Environment Atlas:[3] Ester Boserup (1910 - September 24, 1999), born Børgesen, was a Danish economist and writer who studied economical and agricultural development. ...

A more sophisticated adaptation approach was put forward by Ester Boserup in her classic book The Conditions of Agricultural Growth. Boserup suggested that population growth was the principal force driving societies to find new agricultural technologies (Boserup, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth, Allen and Unwin, 1965, expanded and updated in Population and Technology, Blackwell, 1980.).

Unlike Julian Simon, Boserup did not claim that the process ran smoothly. She acknowledged that population pressure could cause serious resource shortages and environmental problems, and it was these problems that drove people to find solutions. Nor did she claim that things were always better after the adaptation. Julian Lincoln Simon (February 12, 1932–February 8, 1998) was professor of business administration at the University of Maryland and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. ...

They could often be worse. For example, when hunter-gatherers with growing populations depleted the stocks of game and wild foods across the Near East, they were forced to introduce agriculture. But agriculture brought much longer hours of work and a less rich diet than hunter-gatherers enjoyed. Further population growth among shifting slash-and-burn farmers led to shorter fallow periods, falling yields and soil erosion. Plowing and fertilizers were introduced to deal with these problems - but once again involved longer hours of work and degradation of soil resources(Boserup, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth, Allen and Unwin, 1965, expanded and updated in Population and Technology, Blackwell, 1980.).

If agricultural innovation could increase with population density, then carrying capacity might also increase in some areas, averting a crisis there. This hypothesis might find support in the work of Mike Mortimore and Mary Tiffen (1994, [4]) in high-density East Africa, and in several other studies they and others have conducted across the continent. However, Africa is still subject to desertification and other effects suggesting that population may be outpacing agricultural development. For the labor union vitiation procedure, see NLRB election procedures#Decertification elections. ...

Nevertheless, there have been concerns that carrying capacity has been surpassed in 2008 due to a combination of soaring prices for commodities and food. 2008 (MMVIII) is the current year, a leap year that started on Tuesday of the Anno Domini (or common era), in accordance with the Gregorian calendar. ...

Carrying capacity in tourism

The process of defining TCC is composed of two parts (it follows in principle the conceptual framework for TCC as described by Shelby and Heberlein (1986). These parts are described as follows below: Descriptive part (A): Describes how the system (tourist destination) under study works, including physical, ecological, social, political and economic aspects of tourist development. Within this context of particular importance is the identification of: Constraints: limiting factors that cannot be easily managed. They are not flexible, in the sense that the application of organisational, planning, and management approaches, or the development of appropriate infrastructure does not alter the thresholds associated with such constraints. Bottlenecks: limiting factors of the system which managers can manipulate (number of visitors at a particular place). Impacts: elements of the system affected by the intensity and type of use. The type of impact determines the type of capacity (ecological-physical, social, etc). Emphasis should be placed on significant impacts. Evaluative part (B): Describes how an area should be managed and the level of acceptable impacts. This part of the process starts with the identification (if it does not exist already) of the desirable condition/preferable type of development. Within this context goals and management objectives need to be defined, alternative fields of actions evaluated and a strategy for tourist development formulated. On the basis of this, Tourism Carrying Capacity can be defined. Within this context of particular importance is the identification of: Goals/ objectives: (i.e. define the type of experience or other outcomes that a recreation setting should provide)

 Evaluative criteria: specify acceptable levels of change (impacts). 

The tourism discipline especially in national parks and protected areas is subjected to the concept of carrying capacity so as to determine the number of tourist activities that they can entertain at specific time by the management of these areas in different places. Over the years, several arguments have been developed about the definition of carrying capacity by various scholars as follows. Middleton and Hawkins define carrying capacity as a measure of the tolerance a site or building can be open to tourist activities and the limit beyond which an area may suffer from the adverse impacts of tourism (Middleton & Hawkins: 1998). Chamberlain on other hand defines it as the level of human activity an area can accommodate without the area deteriorating, the resident community being adversely affected, or the quality of visitors experience declining (Chamberlain: 1997). Whereas Clark defines carrying capacity as certain threshold level of tourism activity beyond which there will cause damage to the environment, including natural habitants (Clark: 1997). On the other hand the World Tourism Organisation argues that carrying capacity is the maximum number of people that may visit a tourist destination at the same time, without causing destruction of the physical, economic and socio-cultural environment and an unacceptable decrease in the quality of visitors' satisfaction (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/iczm/pdf/tcca_material.pdf. Date assess 08/03/07). In the publication, ‘Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Venture: towards environmentally sustainable development’, the Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization.

Carrying capacity as a part of planning system The definitions of carrying capacity need to be considered as processes within a planning process for tourism development which involves: • Setting capacity limits for sustaining tourism activities in an area. This involves a vision about local development & decisions about managing tourism. • Overall measuring of tourism carrying capacity does not have to lead to a single number, like the number of visitors (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/iczm/pdf/tcca_material.pdf. Date assessed 08/03/07). • In addition, Carrying capacity may contain various limits in respect to the three components (physical- ecological, social-demographic and political – economic). “Carrying capacity is not just a scientific concept or formula of obtaining a number beyond which development should cease, but a process where the eventual limits must be considered as guidance. They should be carefully assessed and monitored, complemented with other standards, etc. Carrying capacity is not fixed. It develops with time and the growth of tourism and can be affected by management techniques and controls” (Saveriades: 2000). The reason for considering carrying capacity as a process rather than a means to protection of various areas is because, though once a guiding concept in recreation and tourism management literature, due to: its conceptual elusiveness, lack of management utility and inconsistent effectiveness in minimising visitors impacts, carrying capacity has been largely re-conceptualized into management by objectives approaches namely; the limits of acceptable change(LAC) and the visitor experience and resource protection(VERP) as the two planning and management decision making processes based on the new understanding of carrying capacity (Lindberg and McCool: 1998) These two have been deemed more appropriate in the tourism planning processes of protected areas especially in the United states and have over the years been adapted and modified for use in sustainable tourism and ecotourism context (Wallace, 1993: McCool: 1994; Harroun and Boo: 1995).

See also

To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... The Lotka-Volterra equations, also known as the predator-prey equations, are a pair of first order, non-linear, differential equations frequently used to describe the dynamics of biological systems in which two species interact, one a predator and one its prey. ... Over-consumption is a concept coined in developing nations to counter the rhetoric of over-population by which developed nations judge them as consuming more than their economy can support. ... Map of countries by population density (See List of countries by population density. ... Population ecology is a major subfield of ecology—one that deals with the dynamics of species populations and how these populations interact with the environment. ... Theoretical Human population increase from 10,000 BC – AD 2000. ... Thomas Robert Malthus FRS (13 February 1766 – 23 December 1834),[1] was a political economist and British demographer. ... Map of countries and territories by fertility rate Graph of Total Fertility Rates vs. ...


  1. ^ Pacific Magazine: Tarawa Tackles Growing Waste Crisis
  2. ^ Troost, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, (non-fiction) (2006)
  3. ^ http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/0,2106,3678934a7144,00.html
  4. ^ Cliggett (2001)
  5. ^ Elizabeth Economy, China vs. Earth. The Nation, May 7, 2007 issue
  6. ^ Ron Nielsen, The little green handbook, Picador, New York (2006) ISBN 0-312-42581-3
  • Gausset Q., M. Whyte and T. Birch-Thomsen (eds.) 2005. Beyond territory and scarcity: Exploring conflicts over natural resource management. Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute
  • Tiffen, M, Mortimore, M, Gichuki, F. 1994. More People, Less Erosion. Environmental Recovery in Kenya. London: Longman.
  • Sayre, N.F. 2008. The Genesis, History, and Limits of Carrying Capacity. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 98(1), pp. 120-134.
  • Karl S. Zimmerer, 1994. Human geography and the “new ecology”: the prospect and promise of

integration. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 84, p.XXX

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Carrying Capacity | Planeta (1420 words)
Carrying capacity is appealing for its simplicity, but this is the very reason why it is fundamentally flawed when applied to human beings.
Carrying capacity is a blunt instrument that is not designed to accommodate these variables and it's apparent simplicity discourages most people from considering these variables.
Policies concerning carrying capacities are based on the assumption that recreational impacts are directly related to the amount and type of use.
Carrying capacity - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1948 words)
Carrying capacity is the population level that can be supported for an organism, given the quantity of food, habitat, water and other life infrastructure present.
The key shift that is made when changing the focus from "carrying capacity" to "ecological footprint" is that the emphasis is not on the number of people in an area (or on the planet) but on their use of resources and the speed with which they use those resources.
Carrying capacity calculates the 'average' use of food and resources, which is closer to the billions of poor in the world, than the hundreds of billionaires.
  More results at FactBites »



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