Carrying Capacity Discussion
Carrying Capacity Discussion
I’m working on a Environmental Science question and need guidance to help me study.
Discuss the role of humans in regulating carrying capacity for the human species and in altering carrying capacity for other species
The carrying capacity of an environment is the maximum population size of a biological species that can be sustained by that specific environment, given the food, habitat, water, and other resources available. The carrying capacity is defined as the environment’s maximal load, which in population ecology corresponds to the population equilibrium, when the number of deaths in a population equals the number of births (as well as immigration and emigration). The effect of carrying capacity on population dynamics is modelled with a logistic function. Carrying capacity is applied to the maximum population an environment can support in ecology, agriculture and fisheries. The term carrying capacity has been applied to a few different processes in the past before finally being applied to population limits in the 1950s. The notion of carrying capacity for humans is covered by the notion of sustainable population.
At the global scale, scientific data indicates that humans are living beyond the carrying capacity of planet Earth and that this cannot continue indefinitely. This scientific evidence comes from many sources but is presented in detail in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, in ecological footprint accounts, or planetary boundaries research. An early detailed examination of global limits was published in the 1972 book Limits to Growth, which has prompted follow-up commentary and analysis. A 2012 review in Nature by 22 international researchers expressed concerns that the Earth may be “approaching a state shift” in its biosphere.
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In terms of population dynamics, the term ‘carrying capacity’ was not explicitly used in 1838 by the Belgian mathematician Pierre François Verhulst when he first published his equations based on research on modelling population growth.
The origins of the term “carrying capacity” are uncertain, with sources variously stating that it was originally used “in the context of international shipping” in the 1840s, or that it was first used during 19th-century laboratory experiments with micro-organisms. A 2008 review finds the first use of the term in English was an 1845 report by the US Secretary of State to the US Senate. It then became a term used generally in biology in the 1870s, being most developed in wildlife and livestock management in the early 1900s. It had become a staple term in ecology used to define the biological limits of a natural system related to population size in the 1950s.
Neo-Malthusians and eugenicists popularised the use of the words to describe the number of people the Earth can support in the 1950s, although American biostatisticians Raymond Pearl and Lowell Reed had already applied it in these terms to human populations in the 1920s.
Hadwen and Palmer (1923) defined carrying capacity as the density of stock that could be grazed for a definite period without damage to the range.
It was first used in the context of wildlife management by the American Aldo Leopold in 1933, and a year later by the also American Paul Lester Errington, a wetlands specialist. Both used the term in different ways, Leopold largely in the sense of grazing animals (differentiating between a ‘saturation level’, an intrinsic level of density a species would live in, and carrying capacity, the most animals which could be in the field) and Errington defining ‘carrying capacity’ as the number of animals above which predation would become ‘heavy’ (this definition has largely been rejected, including by Errington himself). The important and popular 1953 textbook on ecology by Eugene Odum, Fundamentals of Ecology, popularised the term in its modern meaning as the equilibrium value of the logistic model of population growth.