What is Population Ecology?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 January 2020
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Population ecology, originally called autecology, is the study of how populations interact and change within a certain environment. Using this science, experts can offer advanced theories as to the growth or mortality rate of different species. The knowledge gained from population ecology is extremely useful to conservation efforts as it can give a general picture of the survival ability of populations.

One of the fathers of modern population equality is Charles Darwin, the famous British scientist. Expanding on the earlier work of Thomas Malthus, Darwin theorized much of what is known about the evolution of species for survival. In his studies of animal populations, such as finches, Darwin was able to understand how animals adapted for survival in their specific environment. The interaction of population and environment forms the backbone for much of the work done in population ecology.

Algorithms and patterns for population behavior caused many debates between experts throughout the 20th century. While most agreed that basic formulas for determining the probable rate of population survival should exist, there was no great consensus on what those formulas were. Today, population ecology presents a mass of graphs and tables to determine the principles of how a population will behave. While no method has proved absolutely perfect, the ability to produce roughly accurate predictions seems to increase as new theories are field-tested.


While the science and mathematics that forms population ecology may be difficult for the layperson to comprehend, the value of the results are easily measured. The field is of vital importance to the efforts of conservation groups, as it gives models and predictions for how well a population is surviving in its environment. Population ecology can show the effects of a newly introduced plant or animal on the local ecosystem; information that can be extremely important in areas where exotic species can lead to the devastation of local creatures.

In re-population efforts, population ecology can also suggest how well an introduced species will do in a protected area such as a national park or wildlife preserve. There is some concern, however, that the inexactness of the science can actually be to the detriment of some borderline endangered species. If a model incorrectly suggests that a population is flourishing or will greatly jump in numbers, local governments may issue hunting or gathering permits based on the model rather than on actual numbers. It is perhaps best to bear in mind that nature is unpredictable, and population ecology, though improving, can never account for all possible variables in an environment.


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