Carrying Capacity of a Population: Effect of Biomedical Progress

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  • 0:06 Carrying Capacity
  • 2:11 Review of Demography
  • 2:49 Carrying Capacity of…
  • 3:20 Biomedical Progress
  • 6:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Weber

Danielle teaches high school science and has an master's degree in science education.

The human population continues to grow. There are several things that contribute to this growth, including biomedical progress. In this lesson, we will look at some examples as well as what may happen if this growth continues.

Carrying Capacity

In a previous lesson about the theory of demographic transition, we talked about how changes in society affect the structure of the population. Two of the factors that caused human populations to change were advances in medicine and advances in technology. In this lesson, we will look at some of these advances as well as their effects on the human population.

Advances in medicine and technology have caused the human population to change
Advances in Medicine and Technology Have Altered Human Population

Before we can look at how advances in technology and medicine have affected the human population, we need to review carrying capacity. If you have already taken ecology, you may be familiar with carrying capacity, which is the maximum number of individuals an environment can support. Keep in mind that if a population exceeds the carrying capacity, it will then decrease. Sometimes this will result in the population dying out, but it can also result in the population decreasing for a little bit but then leveling off around the carrying capacity.

Now that we have gone over carrying capacity a bit, let's relate it to something more familiar. Rather than thinking about the number of deer a forest can hold, think of carrying capacity as maximum occupancy. When you step into an elevator, you may see a sign that tells you the maximum weight allowed or the maximum number of people allowed in an elevator.

Another time when you may see this is in a restaurant. There is often a sign inside by the door that lists the maximum occupancy of the restaurant, indicating how many people are allowed to be in the restaurant. The correlation can be seen between maximum occupancy and carrying capacity because both terms relate to the maximum number of individuals in a specific area. However, do keep in mind that the maximum occupancy in an elevator or restaurant is generally issued by the fire marshal as a safety regulation, and carrying capacity involves how many individuals an area can support based on factors such as nutrition and space.

Food, shelter and water are a few of the things that affect carrying capacity.
Food, Shelter and Water Affect Carrying Capacity

There are several things that affect the carrying capacity of a population. In ecology, we generally focus on items such as food, shelter and water. However, when talking about human populations, there may be specific items that are discussed including social and economic development.

Review of Demography

In the theory of demographic transition, we looked at the human population on the island of Dharma. Remember that demography is the statistical study of human populations. We discussed the five stages of transition and looked at factors that changed both the age structure and composition of the population. For example, when the population on Dharma was moving from stage 1 to stage 2, this was due to advances in health care causing the life expectancy to increase. By studying the population, demographers are able to predict what will happen in the future, including the predicted number of people that will be in the population or the carrying capacity of the population.

Carrying Capacity of Human Populations

This graph illustrates the five stages of demographic transition.
Graph Showing Stages of Demographic Transition

Because humans modify their environment, they can alter the carrying capacity. For example, the amount of land available does not necessarily represent the number of people that could be in an area. There could be one large house with only one person living in it or, in the same area, there could be a huge apartment complex holding several hundred people. This affects the carrying capacity of the area. However, in this lesson, we will focus more on biomedical progress and its influence on the carrying capacity of the human population.

Biomedical Progress

Biomedical progress refers to advances in technology and medicine. These can range from ground-breaking revelations to practically unnoticed activities. For example, with the advent of the polio vaccine, an unimaginably devastating disease was basically expunged or removed from the population. This improved the lives of countless children as well as society as a whole. Recently, much of the focus on biomedical progress has been on genetic engineering, or the manipulation of an organism's DNA, which is also known as genetic modification.

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