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Module 4.1 Populations are in dynamic equilibrium and are affected by a number of factors.

Ecosystems are dynamic moving from colonisation to climax communities via succession. Know a population is all the organisms of on species in a habitat. Understand that in a habitat a population occupies a niche as a result of adapting to abiotic and biotic factors. (learn definitions)` Appreciate how abiotic factors, interspecific/intraspecific competition and predation affect population size. Be able to investigate populations using random quadrats, transects. Use % cover and frequency as measures of abundance. Use mark release recapture for mobile species. Be aware of risk, ethical issues in taking samples when doing investigations. Be aware that the data gathered will need to be analysed statistically. Analyse and interpret data relating to distribution of organisms, recognising correlations and causal relationships. Know human population size and structure, population growth rate, age pyramids, survival rates and life expectancy. Calculate population growth rates from birth and death rate data. Relate human population size and structure to demographic transition. Know pioneer species colonise a habitat, change it so more, new different species can survive. As succession occurs the habitat changes from harsh to less harsh abiotic conditions allowing more different species to survive i.e. for diversity to increase. (refer to module 2.1) Conservation involves management of succession i.e. change. It is not about stopping natural change. Evaluate conflicting data relating to the conservation of a habitat.

Key Words:

Biotic: an ecological factor that makes up part of the living environment of an organism. Examples include food availability, competition and predation.
Abiotic: an ecological factor that makes up part of the non-biological environment of an organism, e.g. temperature, pH, rainfall and humidity.

Habitat: the place where an organism normally lives, which is characterised by physical conditions and the species of other organisms present. Niche: all conditions and resources required for an organism to survive, reproduce and maintain a viable population.
Population: a group of individuals of the same species that occupy the same habitat at the same time. Community: the organisms of all species that live in the same area. Ecosystem: more or less self-contained functional unit in ecology made up of all the interacting biotic and abiotic factors in a specific area.

Interspecific: competition between organisms of different species. Intraspecific: competition between organisms of the same species. Investigating populations: Random sampling using frame quadrats or point quadrats Systematic sampling along transects.

Quadrats The size of the quadrat o Depends on what size plant/animals being counted and how they are distributed within the area. o Larger the species the larger the quadrat. The number of sample quadrats to record within the study area o Larger the number of sample quadrats the more reliable the results will be. The position of each quadrat within the study area. o To produce statistically significant results a technique known as random sampling must be used.

Random sampling Avoid bias Ensures valid results Lay out two long tape measures at right angles, along two sides of the study area Obtain a series of coordinates by using a random number generator. Place a quadrat at the intersection of each pair of coordinates and record the species within it.

Systematic sampling along transects Sometimes more informative

Measuring abundance The number of individuals of a species within a given space. Frequency o The likelihood of a particular species occurring in a quadrat o A species occurs in 15 out of 30 quadrats the frequency of its occurrence is 50% o Does not provide information on the density and detailed distribution of a species. Percentage cover o An estimate of the area within a quadrat that a particular plant species covers. o It is useful where a species is particularly abundant or is difficult to count. o Data can be collected rapidly and individual plants do not need to be counted. o Less useful where organisms occur in several overlapping layers.

To obtain reliable results it is necessary to ensure that the sample size is large, mean of all samples are obtained. The larger the number of samples the more representative of the community as a while will be the results.

Mark release recapture techniques Relies on a number of assumptions o The proportion of marked to unmarked individuals in the second sample is the same as the proportion of marked to unmarked individuals in the population as a whole. o That the marked individuals released from the first sample are distributed evenly amongst the rest. o The population has a definite boundary so that these is no immigration into or emigration out of the population o There are few deaths and births within the population o Method must not be toxic to individual or affect its liability to predators. o The marked label is not rubbed off in the investigation. To measure abundance of animals/insects

Variation in population size Population growth curves 1. Periods of slow growth as the initially small number of individuals reproduce to slowly build up their numbers. 2. Period of rapid growth. 3. Population growth declines until its size remains more or less stable.

Population size Limiting factors arise over time e.g. algae Mineral ions are used up as the population becomes larger Population becomes so large that algae at the surface prevent light reaching those at deeper levels Other species are introduced into the pond, carried by animals or the wind, and some of these species may use the algae as food or compete for light or minerals.

Winter brings much lower temperatures and lower light intensity of shorter duration.

Various limiting factors that affect the size of a population are of two basic types: Abiotic factors are concerned with the non-living part of the environment o Temperature each species had a different optimum temperature. o Light ultimate source of energy photosynthesis etc o pH actions of enzymes o Water and humidity when water is scarce populations are small and consist only of species that are well adapted to living in dry conditions. Humidity effects transpiration rates. Biotic factors are concerned with the activities of living organisms and include, for example, competition and predation.

Competition Intraspecific Same species compete with one another for resources. Examples o Limpets competing for algae o Oak trees competing for minerals, light etc. o Robins

Interspecific Individuals from different species compete for resources. Where populations of two species initially occupy the same niche, one will normally have a competitive advantage over the other. The population with the advantage will increase whereas the other will diminish. o Competitive exclusion principle.

Predation When one organism is consumed by another Effect of predator-prey relationship on population size o Predators eat their prey, thereby reducing the population of prey. o With fewer prey available the predators are in greater competition with each other for the prey that are left. o The predator population is reduced as some individuals are unable to obtain enough prey for their survival o With fewer predators left, fewer prey are eaten o The prey population therefore increases. o With more prey now available as food, the predator population in turn increases. Could be other reasons such as disease, climate Important in evolution as they create selection pressures enabling survival.

Human populations Explosion in human population o The development of agriculture o The development of manufacturing and trade that created the industrial revolution Factors affecting the growth and size of human populations o Immigration where individuals join a population from outside o Emigration where individuals leave a population Population growth = (births + immigration) (death + emigration)

Factors affecting birth rates o Economic conditions o Cultural and religious backgrounds o Social pressures and conditions o Birth control o Political factors Factors affecting death rate o Age profile o Life expectancy at birth o Food supply o Safe drinking water and effective sanitation o Medical care o Natural disasters o War

Population structure Demographic transition stage 1 small and stable birth rate and death rate is high. Stage 2 early expansion high birth rate but decreasing death rate. Stage 3 late expansion decreasing birth rate and a low death rate. Stage 4 large and stable low birth rate and death rate.

Ecosystems are not fixed, but constantly change with time. This change is called succession. Imagine a lifeless area of bare rock. What will happen to it as time passes?


Very few species can live on bare rock since it stores little water and has few available nutrients. The first colonisers are usually lichens, which have a mutualistic relationship between an alga and a fungus. The alga photosynthesises and makes organic compounds, while the fungus absorbs water and minerals and clings to the rock. Lichens are such good colonisers that almost all bare rock is actually covered in a thin layer of lichen. Mosses can grow on top of the lichens. Between them, these colonisers start to erode the rock and so form a thin soil. Colonisers are slow growing and tolerant of extreme conditions.


Pioneer species such as grasses and ferns grow in the thin soil and their roots accelerate soil formation. They have a larger photosynthetic area, so they grow faster, so they make more detritus, so they form better soil, which holds more water. Herbaceous Plants such as dandelion, goosegrass (weeds) have small winddispersed seeds and rapid growth, so they become established before larger plants.



Larger plants (shrubs) such as bramble, gorse, hawthorn, broom and rhododendron can now grow in the good soil. These grow faster and so outcompete the slower-growing pioneers.


Trees grow slowly, but eventually shade and out-compete the shrubs, which are replaced by shade-tolerant forest-floor species. A complex food web is now established with many trophic levels and interactions. This is called the climax community.

These stages are called seral stages, or seral communities, and the whole succession is called a sere. Each organism modifies the environment, so creating opportunities for other species. As the succession proceeds the community becomes more diverse, with more complex food webs being supported. The final seral stage is stable (assuming the environment doesnt change), so succession stops at the climax stage. In England the natural climax community is oak or beech woodland (depending on the underlying rock), and in the highlands of Scotland it is pine forests. In Roman times the country was covered in oak and beech woodlands with herbivores such as deer, omnivores such as bear and carnivores such as wolves and lynxes. It was said that a squirrel could travel from coast to coast without touching ground. Humans interfere with succession, and have done so since Neolithic times, so in the UK there are few examples of a natural climax left (except perhaps small areas of the Caledonian pine forest in the Scottish Highlands). Common landscapes today like farmland, grassland, moorland and gardens are all maintained at pre-climax stages by constant human interventions, including ploughing, weeding, herbicides, burning, crop planting and grazing animals. These are examples of an artificial climax, or plagioclimax.
Primary succession starts with bare rock or sand, such as behind a retreating glacier, after a volcanic eruption, following the silting of a shallow lake or seashore, on a new sand dune, or on rock scree from erosion and weathering of a mountain. Secondary succession starts with soil, but no (or only a few) species, such as in a forest clearing, following a forest fire, or when soil is deposited by a meandering river.

Conservation Human intervention to maintain ecosystems and biodiversity Main reasons for conservation o Ethical respect for living things o Economic o Cultural and aesthetic Conserving habitats by managing succession o Climax communities make habitats disappear o Conservation stops succession from moving onto the next stage and enables the species to live.