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Introduction to Populations

Author(s): Deanne Erdmann, MS

Limits on Population Growth

Carrying capacity (K) is the maximum number of organisms of a population that can be supported by a particular habitat. As population numbers approach the carrying capacity of an environment, in other words as density increases, competition for resources is amplified. Density-dependent factors in an environment include available food, nutrients in the soil, water, and shelter, among many others. The buildup of metabolic wastes also increases with density and adversely affects many populations as well.

Weather, climate, and human activities can be density-independent factors which affect the environment. In the case of catastrophic events or the pressure of toxins, populations are affected regardless of size. Populations recover at different rates, some even experiencing a permanent decline after a major change in the environment.