, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 39–53

On the survival of populations in a heterogeneous and variable environment

  • P. J. den Boer


The survival time of small and isolated populations will often be relatively low, by which the survival of species living in such a way will depend on powers of dispersal sufficiently high to result in a rate of population foundings that about compensates the rate of population extinctions. The survival time of composite populations uninterruptedly inhabiting large and heterogeneous areas, highly depends on the extent to which the numbers fluctuate unequally in the different subpopulations. The importance of this spreading of the risk of extinction over differently fluctuating subpopulations is demonstrated by comparing over 19 years the fluctuation patterns of the composite populations of two carabid species, Pterostichus versicolor with unequally fluctuating subpopulations, and Calathus melanocephalus with subpopulations fluctuating in parallel, both uninterruptedly occupying the same large heath area. The conclusions from the field data are checked by simulating the fluctuation patterns of these populations, and thus directly estimating survival times. It thus appeared that the former species can be expected to survive more than ten times better than the latter (other things staying the same). These simulations could also be used to study the possible influence of various density restricting processes in populations already fluctuating according to some pattern. As could be expected, the survival time of a population, which shows a tendency towards an upward trend in numbers, will be favoured by some kind of density restriction, but the degree to which these restrictions are density-dependent appeared to be immaterial. Density reductions that are about adequate on the average need even not occur at high densities only, if only the chance of occurrence at very low densities is low. The density-level at which a population is generally fluctuating appeared to be less important for survival than the fluctuation pattern itself, except for very low density levels, of course. The different ways in which deterministic and stochastic processes may interact and thus determine the fluctuations of population numbers are discussed. It is concluded that some stochastic processes will operate everywhere and will thus necessarily result in density fluctuations; such an omnipresence is much less imperative, however, for density-dependent processes, by which population models should primarily be stochastic models. However, if density-dependent processes are added to model populations, that are already fluctuating stochastically the effects are taken up into the general, stochastic fluctuation pattern, without altering it fundamentally.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Andrewartha HG (1957) The use of conceptual models in population ecology. Cold Spring Harb Symp quant Biol 22:219–236Google Scholar
  2. Andrewartha HG, Birch LC (1954) The distribution and abundance of animals. Chicago Univ Press, Chicago, p 782Google Scholar
  3. Baars MA (1979a) Patterns of movement of radioactive carabid beetles. Oecologia (Berl) 44:125–140Google Scholar
  4. Baars MA (1979b) Catches in pitfall traps in relation to mean densities of carabid beetles. Oecologia (Berl) 41:25–46Google Scholar
  5. Bakker K (1964) Backgrounds of controversies about population theories and their terminologies. Z angew Entom 53:187–208Google Scholar
  6. Bakker K (1971): Some general remarks on the concepts “population” and “regulation”. Proc Adv Study Inst Dynamics numbers Pop (Oosterbeek 1970):565–567Google Scholar
  7. Den Boer PJ (1968) Spreading of risk and stabilization of animal numbers. Acta Biotheor 18:165–194Google Scholar
  8. Den Boer PJ (1970) On the significance of dispersal power for populations of Carabid-beetles (Coleoptera, Carabidae). Oecologia (Berl) 4:1–28Google Scholar
  9. Den Boer PJ (1971) Stabilization of animal numbers and the heterogeneity of the environment: The problem of the persistence of sparse populations. Proc Adv Study Inst Dynamics numbers Pop (Oosterbeek 1970):77–97Google Scholar
  10. Den Boer PJ (1977) Dispersal power and survival. Carabids in a cultivated countryside. Miscell papers LH Wageningen 14, p 190Google Scholar
  11. Den Boer PJ (1979a) The significance of dispersal power for the survival of species, with special reference to the carabid beetles in a cultivated countryside. Fortschr Zool 25 2/3:79–94Google Scholar
  12. Den Boer PJ (1979b) Populations of Carabid beetles and individual behaviour. General aspects. Miscell Papers LH Wageningen 18:145–149Google Scholar
  13. Den Boer PJ (1981) On the stability of animal populations, or how to survive in a heterogeneous and changeable world? Paper read at Bremen Univ, will be published in Fortschr ZoolGoogle Scholar
  14. Dingle H (1978) Evolution of insect migration and diapause. Springer Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg New York, p 350Google Scholar
  15. Hassell MP (1978) The dynamics of arthropod predator-prey systems. Monogr Pop Biol 13, p 237Google Scholar
  16. Johnson CG (1969) Migration and dispersal of insects by flight. Methuen, London, p 763Google Scholar
  17. Juberthie C (1979) L'évolution des coléoptères Trechinae souterrains (Coleoptera, Carabidae). Miscell Papers LH Wageningen 18:83–99Google Scholar
  18. Klomp H, van Montfort MAJ, Tammes PML (1964) Sexual reproduction and underpopulation. Arch Néerl Zool 16:105–110Google Scholar
  19. Kuhn TS (1970) The structure of scientific revolutions. 2nd enlarged edn. Univ of Chicago Press, Chicago, p 210Google Scholar
  20. Kuno E (1971) Sampling error as a misleading artefact in “key factor analysis” Res Popul Ecol 13:28–45Google Scholar
  21. Kuno E (1981) Dispersal and the persistence of populations in unstable habitats: A theoretical note. Oecologia (Berlin) 49:123–126Google Scholar
  22. Luff ML (1975) Some features influencing the efficiency of pitfall traps. Oecologia (Berl) 19:345–357Google Scholar
  23. May RM (1973) Stability and complexity in model ecosystems. Monogr Pop Biol 6, p 235Google Scholar
  24. Milne A (1957) Theories on natural control of insect populations. Cold Spring Harb Symp quant Biol 25:253–271Google Scholar
  25. Milne A (1962) A theory of natural control of insect populations. J theor Biol 3:19–50Google Scholar
  26. Murdoch WW (1979) Predation and the dynamics of prey populations. Fortschr Zool 25 2/3:296–310Google Scholar
  27. Reddingius J (1971) Gambling for existence. A discussion of some theoretical problems in animal population ecology. Acta Biotheor 20 (suppl) 1–208Google Scholar
  28. Reddingius J, den Boer PJ (1970) Simulation experiments illustrating stabilization of animal numbers by spreading of risk. Oecologia (Berl) 5:240–284Google Scholar
  29. Southwood TRE (1962) Migration of terrestrial arthropods in relation to habitat. Biol Rev 37:171–214Google Scholar
  30. Turanchik EJ, Kane TC (1979) Ecological genetics of the cave beetle Neaphaenops tellkampfii (Coleoptera, Carabidae). Oecologia (Berl) 44:63–67Google Scholar
  31. Van Dijk Th S (1981) Individual variability and its significance for the survival of animal populations. Paper read at Bremen Univ, will be published in Fortschr ZoolGoogle Scholar
  32. Watt KEF (1971) Dynamics of populations: A synthesis Proc Adv Study Inst Dynamics numbers Pop (Oosterbeek 1970) 568–580Google Scholar
  33. Wolda H (1978a) Fluctuations in abundance of tropical insects. The Amer Naturalist 112:1017–1045Google Scholar
  34. Wolda H (1978b) Seasonal fluctuations in rainfall, food and abundance of tropical insects. J anim Ecol 47:369–381Google Scholar
  35. Zwölfer H (1978) Mechanismen und Ergebnisse der Co-Evolution von phytophagen und entomophagen Insekten und höheren Pflanzen. Sonderbd. naturw Ver Hamburg 2:7–50Google Scholar
  36. Zwölfer H (1979) Strategies and counterstrategies in insect population systems competing for space and food in flower heads and plant galls. Fortschr Zool 25 2/3:331–353Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. J. den Boer
    • 1
  1. 1.Biologisch StationBiological Station of the Agricultural University WageningenWijsterThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations