Wildlife Conservation

What You Should Know | Wildlife | Habitat | Populations | Tools | Role of Hunting | Final Quiz

Carrying Capacity carrying capacity graphic  

"Carrying Capacity" is the number of animals that a given area will support (or "carry") without damage to the habitat or to the animals. It is very important to understand that, no matter how good a habitat is, and no matter how much protection is given to the animals in it, a given area will only support so many animals. Animal populations respond to a change in the carrying capacity with a corresponding change in numbers: if conditions improve, the population will increase; if conditions get worse or habitat is lost, the population will decrease.

Wild animals can never be "stockpiled" in excess of the carrying capacity of a habitat. This is why temporary measures such as winter feeding of starving deer or moose only make the real problem worse. The population is not in balance with its habitat.

In this figure, the water flowing from the pipe is the new animals born into the population each year. The bucket is the carrying capacity of the habitat. If more animals come into the habitat than the bucket can hold, they "spill over" and are removed through starvation, disease, accidents, hunting, etc.

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