An experimental critique of the population carrying capacity concept

Aziz Subach, Tomer Gilad, Adar Rosenfeld, Ofer Ovadia, Inon Scharf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Carrying capacity has multiple definitions, but nowadays, it is mainly referred to as the maximum number of individuals of a particular species sustained by the environment. We examined whether multiple populations of two flour beetle species grown under controlled laboratory conditions reach similar asymptotic population sizes when provided with similar amounts of food resources. We demonstrate that the variation in the asymptotic population sizes was considerably larger than that of the initial food resources and that the latter had no significant effect on the former. Our results experimentally contribute to past literature criticizing the carrying capacity concept, demonstrating that there is no single carrying capacity even under strict laboratory conditions. Therefore, we should not expect to often find “carrying capacities” in nature, where resources fluctuate over time, and interspecific interactions are ubiquitous. We suggest that the classic meaning of carrying capacity should be revisited or saved chiefly for didactic purposes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)487-493
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • asymptotic population size
  • flour beetles
  • intraspecific competition
  • logistic growth
  • population growth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology


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