The Princeton Guide to Ecology

By Simon A. Levin | Go to book overview

II.2
Density Dependence and Single-Species
Population Dynamics
Anthony R. Ives
OUTLINE
1. Three questions about the dynamics of single species
2. Density dependence
3. Endogenous population variability
4. Exogenous population variability
5. Returning to the three questions

In ecology, population dynamics refers to how populations of a species change through time. The study of single-species population dynamics encompasses three general questions: (1) What explains the average abundance of a population? (2) What explains the fluctuations in abundance of a population through time? and (3) How do average abundances and fluctuations in abundance vary among populations in different geographic locations? Any of these questions can be asked of any population of any species, yet some populations pose particularly interesting challenges for one or more of the questions. Thus, ecologists often focus on populations that are remarkably large (pests) or small (endangered species), that have dramatic fluctuations through time, or that vary markedly from one location to another.


GLOSSARY

density dependence. Density-dependent population growth occurs when the per capita population growth rate changes as the population density changes. Because it changes with population density, density-dependent growth is not exponential.

dynamics. The dynamics of a population consists of the changes through time in the population size or a related measure such as density.

endogenous variability. Endogenous population variability is driven by density-dependent factors that involve interactions among individuals in the system specified by a researcher. The system could consist of a single population or populations of interacting species.

exogenous variability. Exogenous population variability is driven by factors outside the system that are not themselves influenced by population fluctuations within the system. Examples include not only environmental factors such as weather but also the abundances of other species if the dynamics of these species is not affected by the focal species within the system.

exponential population growth and decline. When the per capita population growth rate remains constant, the population experiences exponential growth or decline. Exponential population growth can also occur when the per capita population growth rate varies through time provided its average remains constant.

intrinsic rate of increase. The intrinsic rate of increase is the maximum per capita population growth rate for a population with a stable age structure (i.e., the proportions of the population in different age groups remain the same). The intrinsic rate of increase is often achieved when the population is at low density.

per capita population growth rate. The per capita population growth rate is the rate at which a population changes per individual in the population. It is often expressed as the natural logarithm of the ratio of population densities at consecutive sample times, log ex(t + 1)/x(t).

population. A population is a group of individuals of the same species occupying a specified geographic area over a specified period of time. The area may be ecologically relevant (an island) or irrelevant (political districts), and the boundaries may be porous, with individuals immigrating to and emigrating from the population.

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