Global Ecology and Biogeography, (Global Ecol. Biogeogr.) (2004)13, 485–495
Blackwell Publishing, Ltd.

RESEARCH REVIEW

The carrying capacity of ecosystems
Pablo del Monte-Luna1*, Barry W.Brook2, Manuel J. Zetina-Rejón1 and Victor H. Cruz-Escalona1

Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas — Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Departamento de Biología Marina y Pesquerías, ApartadoPostal 592, Código Postal 23000, La Paz, Baja California Sur, México. E-mail: pdelmontel@ipn.mx, 2Key Centre for Tropical Wildlife Management, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia

1ABSTRACT

*Correspondence: Pablo del Monte-Luna, Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas — Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Departamento de Biología Marina y Pesquerías, Apartado Postal 592,Código Postal 23000, La Paz, Baja California Sur, México. E-mail: pdelmontel@ipn.mx

We analyse the concept of carrying capacity (CC), from populations to the biosphere, and offer a definition suitablefor any level. For communities and ecosystems, the CC evokes density-dependence assumptions analogous to those of population dynamics. At the biosphere level, human CC is uncertain and dynamic,leading to apprehensive rather than practical conclusions. The term CC is widely used among ecological disciplines but remains vague and elusive. We propose the following definition: the CC is ‘the limit ofgrowth or development of each and all hierarchical levels of biological integration, beginning with the population, and shaped by processes and interdependent relationships between finite resourcesand the consumers of those resources’. The restrictions of the concept relate to the hierarchical approach. Emergent properties arise at each level, and environmental heterogeneity restrains themeasurement and application of the CC. Because the CC entails a myriad of interrelated, ever-changing biotic and abiotic factors, it must not be assumed constant, if we are to derive more effective and... [continua]

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