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APES Notes - Chapter Four: Ecosystems: How They Change

APES Notes - Chapter Four: Ecosystems: How They Change

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Chapter Four: Ecosystems: How They Change4.1 Dynamics of Natural PopulationsI. Each species in an ecosystem exists as a population, or reproducing group. In any population, births and deaths will cause the population to grow or shrink.A. If births and deaths are more or less equal over time, the population is said to be inequilibrium.Population Growth CurvesI.Every species has the capacity to increase its population when conditions are favorable.The growth of a population under ideal conditions will be exponential.A.Such a series is called an exponential increase. This sort of growth results in a population explosion.B.A basic feature of exponential increase is that the numbers increase faster andfaster as the population doubles and redoubles, with each doubling occurring inthe same amount of time. If we plot numbers over time during an exponentialincrease, the pattern produced is commonly called a J- curve.C.There are situations that lead to population explosions in a species. However, asthe population continues to expand, one of two things will occur: 1) naturalmechanisms may cause the population to level off and continue at dynamicequilibrium. This pattern is known as an S-curve. 2) in the absence of naturalenemies, the population keeps growing until it exhausts essential resources andthen dies off.II.After a J-curve crash, several things can occur.A.For a herbivore species, any one of three scenarios may unfold. First, if theecosystem has not been seriously damaged, the plant food resource may recover,allowing the herbivore population to recover, and the J-curve may be repeated.Second, after the initial J, natural mechanisms may come into play as theecosystem recovers, thus bringing the population into an S-balance. In the thirdscenario, damage to the ecosystem is so severe that recovery is limited, and smallsurviving populations eke out an existence in a badly degraded environment.III.The outstanding feature of natural ecosystems—ecosystems that are more or lessundisturbed by human activities—is that they are made up of populations that areusually in dynamic equilibrium represented by S-curves. J-curves come about whenthere are unusual disturbances, such as the introduction of foreign species, theelimination of a predator, or the sudden alternation of a habitat.A.The increases represented by J-curves are only temporary in animal populations, because the animals inevitably die off as resources are exhausted.Biotic Potential versus Environmental ResistanceI.The ability of a population to increase is known as biotic potential: it is the number of offspring that a species may produce under ideal circumstances.A.The biotic potential of different species varies tremendously.
 
B.To have any effect on the size of subsequent populations, the young must surviveand reproduce in turn. Survival through the early growth stages to become part of the breeding population is called recruitment.II.There are two common reproductive strategies in the natural world. The first is to produce massive amounts of young, but then leave survival to the whims of nature.This strategy often results in very low recruitment. Thus, despite a high biotic potential, a population may not increase at all because of low recruitment. However,this strategy is highly successful if a species is adapted to an environment that cansuddenly change and become very favorable.A.Organisms with this strategy are usually small, with rapid reproductive rates andshort life spans.B.The second strategy is to have a much lower reproductive rate, but then care for and protect the young until they can compete for resources with adult members of the population. This strategy works best where the environment is stable andalready well populated by the species. Organisms with such a strategy are larger,longer lived, and well adapted to normal environmental fluctuations.III.Additional factors that influence population growth and geographic distribution are theability of animals to migrate, or of seeds to disperse, to similar habitats in other regions; the ability to adapt to and invade new habitats; defense mechanisms; andresistance to adverse conditions and disease.A.All of these factors are components of an species’ life history, and represent a particular strategy for reproduction and survival that enables the species to besuccessful in a unique ecological niche in the ecosystem.IV.Population explosions are seldom seen in natural ecosystems, because biotic and abioticfactors tend to cause mortality in populations.A.Among the biotic factors are predators, parasites, competitors, and lack of food.Among the abiotic factors are unusual temperatures, moisture, light, salinity, pH,lack of nutrients, and fire.B.The combination of all the biotic and abiotic factors that may limit a population’sincrease is referred to as environmental resistance.V.In general, the reproductive ability of a species remains fairly constant because thatability is part of the genetic endowment of the species. What varies substantially isrecruitment. It is in the early stages of growth that individuals are most vulnerable.A.Consequently, environmental resistance effectively reduces recruitment. If recruitment is at the replacement level—with just enough to replace the adults— then the population will remain at equilibrium. If recruitment is insufficient toreplace losses in the breeding population, then the population will decline.VI.There is a definite upper limit to the population of any particular plant or animal that anecosystem can support. This limit is known as the carrying capacity.
 
A.The carrying capacity is the maximum population of a species that a given habitatcan support without the habitat being degraded over the long term. If a populationgreatly exceeds the habitat’s carrying capacity, it will undergo a J-curve crash.B.Because conditions within a habitat can change from year to year, the habitat’scarrying capacity varies accordingly.VII.In general, a population’s biotic potential remains constant, so it is changes inenvironmental resistance that allow population to increase or cause them to decrease.Population balance is a dynamic balance, which means that additions and subtractionsare occurring continually and the population may fluctuate around a median.A.Some populations fluctuate very little, whereas others fluctuate widely. As long asdecreased populations restore their numbers and the ecosystem’s carryingcapacity is not exceeded, the population is considered to be at equilibrium.Density Dependence and Critical Number I.The size of a population generally remains within a certain range when environmentalresistance factors are density dependent. That is, as population density increases,increases, environmental resistance becomes more intense and causes such anincrease in mortality that the population growth ceases or declines.A.As population density decreases, environmental resistance lessens, allowing the population to recover.II.Factors in the environment that cause mortality can also be density independent. That is,their effect is independent of the density of the population. This is frequently true of abiotic factors.A.Although density-independent factors can be important sources of mortality, theyare not involved in maintaining population equilibria.III.There is no guarantee that a population will recover from low numbers. The survival andrecovery of a population depends on a certain minimum population base, which isreferred to as the population’s critical number.A.Often a group is necessary to provide protection and support for its members.B.If a population is depleted below the critical number needed to provide supportinginteractions, the surviving members become more vulnerable, breeding fails, andextinction is almost always inevitable.C.Concern for declines in species led to the Endangered Species Act, which calls for the recovery of two categories of species. Species whose populations aredeclining rapidly are classified as threatened. If the population is near whatscientists believe to be its critical number, the species may be classified asendangered.4.2 Mechanisms of Population EquilibriumI. Only those factors that are density-dependent are capable of actually regulating the population, keeping it around an equilibrium.

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