Human Ecology

, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 259-295

First online:

Constraints on population growth: The case of the Polynesian Outlier Atolls in the precontact period

  • Tim Bayliss-SmithAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Cambridge

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A model of the subsistence economy of an insular population is proposed in which the various factors that might influence the potential carrying capacity of the environment are made explicit as a set of ecological and cultural constraints on subsistence production. The application of the model to the Polynesian Outlier Atolls is discussed, and a formula is suggested whereby the population potential of any stable and bounded ecosystem can be calculated, using data on agricultural area, productivity, and diets. The actual size of precontact populations of the Outliers and other atolls appears to have been 70–80% of the predicted carrying capacity, which accords well with ethnographic evidence for population homeostasis.