Ed Golson Outdoor Education


Have you ever thought about what keeps animal populations from growing out of control? If most animals give birth to multiple young every year, what's keeping them from becoming over populated? If you said it was because of predators eating them, you are partially right.  

Animal populations are kept in check due to competition . All creatures ne ed food and a place to live in order to survive. If there isn't enough food or space to go aro und, some of the creatures aren't going to survive very long.  For a good example, take the white-tail deer. Deer need a lot of space to roam and a lot of plants to eat. They also need a place to hide from predators when they sleep. If a certain area has lots of food and places to hide, the deer will thrive and reproduce quickly.

If the deer reproduce too quickly or become too numerous, there won't be enough plants or territory to go around. The deer that are the smartest or the quickest will find all the best spots to eat or hide first. Those that are left likely won't survive when the food gets scarce or when predators come looking for them.

The number of animals of a certain species that a given ecosystem can safely hold is called the carrying capacity. As long as the number of a given species is below its carrying capacity, it can grow and reproduce without any trouble. If the size of the population exceeds its carrying capacity, the competition for the limited amount of resources becomes too severe and the animals will die.

Competition doesn't just affect animals of the same species. Often, many different types of animals require the same types of food or habitat. When this happens one type of animal can suffer when a different type of animal gets too numerous. For a good example, let's look at the white-tail deer again. When deer get very numerous, they will eat all sorts of plant material. For instance, they might eat all the acorns in a given area. When that happens, the squirrels in that area will suffer because there is less food for them. They can't compete against the bigger and more numerous deer. Other species can suffer when one species becomes overpopulated.

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