Carrying Capacity

In the article “Agents of Change” by Kevin Tucker he explores a grim outlook on the future of civilization as we know it. Although I may not agree with everything he talks about in the article I was captivated by the idea of carrying capacity, within the first couple pages of “Wild Ones” I was amazed to see Jon Mooallem discussing carrying capacity also. It made me realize that this must be an important topic especially when talking about the limit of humans or animals. Carrying capacity is the ability of an environment to support the organisms living in it. I thought it was particularly interesting that carrying capacity could change as a result of different environmental pressures. If there is a drought, a bad storm, or maybe a wildfire, crops and animals could be wiped out causing severe food shortages in an area which would mean the environment could no longer support as many people as it once could. On the flip side of that if there is plenty of water for plants and animals, plenty of clean air, and plenty of space then the human population will skyrocket because the environment can handle more.

In other readings they mention the idea of overshooting as a result of exceeding carrying capacity. Eventually though the population levels back off. I wondered how close we are as a society to overshooting. Seeing overpopulation or the idea of reaching and exceeding carrying capacity in real life for me is kind of difficult having grown up near rural Ohio where farms run for as far as the eye can see. With only a few little houses and barns here and there it is hard to believe that the world around us can barely support us. But all we have to look at now is China as an example of what can happen when the environment is not equipped to handle the amount of humans living there. It can be detrimental to the environment that supports them. In their cities they have overcrowding and massive levels of pollution, in which they cannot even go outside without a facemask. The cities were not designed to handle the amount of traffic they have leading to days long traffic jams. Overshooting is absolutely a possibility if we continue on this path of unrelenting growth and we do nothing to aid the environment in which we live.

Carrying capacity is not a finite number that scientists can say yes the earth can definitely can hold so many birds, so many mice and so many humans. The limit on just how much a species can grow is dependent on its environment, this makes it subject to environmental pressures and changes. Limiting factors is a term describing the many different factors that can limit carrying capacity. If we look at a cells limiting factors, as a cell grows and replicates they begin to take up more and more space in their environment, they use a chemical signal that tells them and other cells around them to stop dividing and making more cells that could cause them to overshoot the carrying capacity. As we have seen throughout the course of human history though is that as technology increases the population increases and the Earth’s carrying capacity is only so big, maybe it is time we come up with a signal to tell us to stop growing.



  1. I learned about carrying capacity in a previous biology class. We also discussed the world and population growth. It is scary to think that we have the foresight to know this is going to happen but nothing is going to be done about it until it is almost too late.

  2. The scary part of the concept of carrying capicity is how it ties to population growth. A population of animals typically goes through a period of exponential grown, and then a period of rapid population decline as a direct result of this growth. This fundamental naturla process also applies to humans (as biological organisms), but the question still remains- are we able to control our population enough to prevent this?

  3. Interesting post. Human population has been expanding very rapidly of late. It should be interesting to see how our large population and technology mesh with the environment in the future.

  4. I often wonder what will happen to the US if the population gets to be as dense as it is in china. Will we start telling families how many children they can have? Luckily we live in a really big country so that may not be a problem in out life time, but it should definitely be addressed.

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