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Population Ecology: Estimating Population Size

Population: a group of individuals of the same species

that potentially interbreed and living in the same area at
a particular time.
- convenient level of abundance for describing the
number of individuals of a species.
- usually a small subset of the species
- has evolutionary significance
deme: a local group of interbreeding organisms

Population ecology is concerned with

- measuring changes in population size and
composition, and
- identifying the factors causing the changes
- relevant to many applied issues in ecology
The population will usually function in a narrower
range of environmental conditions than will the
individuals in a population.
optimum Most Narrow
Biological activity

level required to maintain the

level required to maintain the
level required to maintain
critical functions
c’ b’ a’ a b c Temperature or
Environmental Moisture Widest Range

stream insects: adult body size, metabolic efficiency, fecundity, and
abundance are maximized at the center of the latitudinal range
- organisms are only as good as they have to be, which is better
than conspecifics. No "perfectly" adapted…optimized…organisms.
Unimodal distributions form the basis of many (statistical)
models for communities.

mangrove liquidamber
single peak cypress oak pine cactus


wet dry
moisture gradient
Can be asymmetrical: stenothermic vs. eurythermic

Temperature wide range of

different body
stenotherm temperatures
Biological activity


Environmental Environmental
gradient gradient
(temperature) (temperature)
How do we quantify the number of individuals in a

- expressed as density : number of individuals/unit area

Or Volume
Some of the basic questions asked by population
biologists include:
i) How many organisms are there? 3 ways to count
ii) How does population size vary over space?3 ways to see
iii) How does population size vary over time?

How many organisms are there?

1) Total counts: absolute estimation of population
Counting everyone
How many organisms are there?

2) representative counts using subsampling

i) quadrats: number of individuals in an area of known
- can differ in shape
ii) capture-recapture: Animals are captured, marked,
released and then recaptured at a later date.

N = total population size: unknown

Time 1: mark individuals (M) and release
Time 2, etc: capture individuals:
C = total # of individuals in sample
R = number of marked individuals in C.
proportion of individual marked in second sample C is
representative of total population size when samples originally
based on the assumption: marked.

marked individ. in sample marked individ. in total population

--------------------------- = ------------------------------------------
total # caught in sample total population size

----- = -----; RN = MC; N = -----

e.g., M = 150; C = 400; R = 100; N = ?

----------- = 600 = N
All capture-recapture models make three critical

1) marked and unmarked individuals are

captured randomly

2) marked individuals are subject to the same

mortality rate as unmarked individuals

3) marks are not lost or overlooked.

3) Estimates of relative density are adequate if we
want an approximation of abundance.
- An “order of magnitude” estimate

- vocalization frequency
- pelt records (e.g. Hudson Bay Company)
- number of fecal pellets, tracks, etc.
- catch per unit effort: number of fish per
100 hours of trawling
- % cover
- roadside counts (e.g., number of raptors per
standard distance)
3 Types of Dispersion
Dispersion: the pattern of
spacing of individuals within the
geographical boundaries of the

Aggregated or clumped: the occurrence of an individual

in a sample unit increases the probability that another
individual will occur within the unit
Indicates: heterogeneity of resources; aggregation
Can lead to: enhanced resource exploitation;
protection from predators
e.g., filter-feeding stream-dwelling insects; tent
caterpillars; fish such as herring, jacks, etc.
3 Types of Dispersion

Regular or spaced: the occurrence of an individual in the

sampling unit reduces the probability that another
individual will occur there.

Indicates: antagonistic interactions

b/w individuals; territoriality
(behavior) or other forms of spacing
mechanisms (allelochemicals,

e.g, penguins in a rookery; trees in

an orchard
3 Types of Dispersion

Poisson or random: The occurrence of one individual in a

sampling unit has no effect on the probability that other
individuals will occur in the same sampling unit.
Indicates: chance placement; absence of strong
attractions or repulsions.
e.g., forest trees