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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2002 Sep 29;357(1425):1221-31.

Complex numerical responses to top-down and bottom-up processes in vertebrate populations.

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Centre for Biodiversity Research, 6270 University Boulevard, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6T 1Z4.


Population growth rate is determined in all vertebrate populations by food supplies, and we postulate bottom-up control as the universal primary standard. But this primary control system can be overridden by three secondary controls: top-down processes from predators, social interactions within the species and disturbances. Different combinations of these processes affect population growth rates in different ways. Thus, some relationships between growth rate and density can be hyperbolic or even have multiple nodes. We illustrate some of these in marsupial, ungulate and rabbit populations. Complex interactions between food, predators, environmental disturbance and social behaviour produce the myriad observations of population growth in nature, and we need to develop generalizations to classify populations. Different animal groups differ in the combination of these four processes that affect them, in their growth rates and in their vulnerability to extinction. Because conservation and management of populations depend critically on what factors drive population growth, we need to develop universal generalizations that will relieve us from the need to study every single population before we can make recommendations for management.

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