Positive and negative feedbacks in human population dynamics: future equilibrium or collapse?

Authors

  • Mauricio Lima,

    1. Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity, Pontificia Univ. Catolica de Chile, Casilla 114-D, Santiago CP 6513677, Chile
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  • Alan A. Berryman

    1. Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity, Pontificia Univ. Catolica de Chile, Casilla 114-D, Santiago CP 6513677, Chile
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M. Lima, Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity, Pontificia Univ. Catolica de Chile, Casilla 114-D, Santiago CP 6513677, Chile. E-mail: mlima@bio.puc.cl

Abstract

The future number of people inhabiting the planet will influence the impact over natural ecosystems. In consequence, the growth of the human population represents one of the most important challenges for the near future. In this paper we used population dynamic theory to analyze human population growth. The results suggest that human population growth exhibited important fluctuations during the last 2000 years. In particular two different phases during the last 400 years can be distinguished, a positive relationship with population size implying positive feedback processes, followed by a negative relationship with population size – suggesting that negative feedback processes have been operating during the last 45 years. Our results support the view that ecological concepts derived from population ecology can be useful for understanding human dynamics. While cooperation at low densities in animal populations reminds us the Boserupian view that population growth induces economic development and higher standards of living, competition at high densities reconciles ecological theory with the original Malthusian view. We conclude that the present reduction in human per capita growth rates appears to be consequence of different limiting factors operating in combination around the globe in a similar manner, except in Africa where the factors operating appears to be very different. Humans may achieve a stable equilibrium population in the next century but the possibility of a population collapse caused by second-order oscillations should be considered.

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