Why might an understanding of population dynamics be relevant in an environmental geology course?
Exponential population growth versus consumption rate, which is the real culprit?
An argument that is sometimes cast about is that population growth should not the real concern, but consumption rates are more important. Some countries with low population growth have very high per capita consumption rates (including the U.S.), and maybe the focus and when blame is being assigned, the blame should be laid here. While consumption rate is a major factor not to be ignored, a simple mathematical model contrasting two different populations shows, however, that in the long term population growth can not be ignored and dominates as a factor. This result reinforces the 'power' of exponential growth.
Consider a high birth rate versus low use group where every person produces 4 offspring and uses 1 unit of a resource in their lifetime, versus a group of low birth rate where every person produces 2 offspring but uses 10 units of that same resource. In other words the while the birth rate of one is twice as high as the other this group has a per capita resource use rate one tenth of the other. The below table produced shows that after 5 generations the high birth rate population quickly surpasses the low birth rate in cumulative resource use. Excel can be easily used to model other versions of this type of experiment.
|population for high birth rate low use group 1||1||4||16||64||256||1024||4096|
|cumulative consumption for group 1||1||5||21||85||341||1365||5461|
|population for low birth rate high use group 2||1||2||4||8||16||32||64|
|cumulative consumption for group 2||10||30||70||150||310||630||1270|
What should one conclude from this exercise? Per capita resource use is an important factor that should be considered, but population growth can not be ignored.
What is the role between growth constant at any one time and environmental conditions?
The settlement of Greenland by the Vikings is a potentially good example. Greenland was settled in a time of relative warmth that permitted farming and maintenance of livestock. The settlements were quickly abandoned in the 1400s at the beginning of the Little Ice Age. Climate changes can be much more pronounced in polar regions. One explanation of the settlement collapse was simply that the Little Ice Age changed the local carrying capacity. Interestingly, archeological evidence indicates the Greenland Vikings did not eat the local fish, even as they were starving.
What other biologic populations are strongly linked to human endeavors?