In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Animal Population Ecology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • History
  • Autobiographies, Biographies, and Memoirs
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Anthologies
  • Statistical Methods
  • Analytic Methods
  • Field Methods
  • Theory
  • Population Growth and Regulation
  • Interspecific Interactions
  • Invasions
  • Life History Studies
  • Natural History Compendia

Ecology Animal Population Ecology
Frank N. Egerton, Gregory C. Mayer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0192


Animal population ecology comprises the study of the growth, regulation, and interactions of animal populations. As a level of organization, the population comes between individuals on the one hand and communities on the other, but there is not a sharp distinction between those phenomena that affect the levels above and below from those of the population: a population’s growth may be much effected by the behavior of its constituent individuals, while the presence of predators, prey, and competitors in the community will likewise have important effects on the population. Nonetheless, the population is a worthy area of emphasis (for greater consideration of multispecies interactions and other aspects of community structure and function, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Community Ecology”). Animals share a number of relevant ecological features that make a separation from plants useful: animals are all heterotrophs, mostly exist as biologically separate and genetically distinct individuals, and most are sexual. There are greater or lesser exceptions to all of these features, but they unify the phenomena of animal populations, and make counting individuals an intuitive and practical way of accounting for their populations’ growth and numbers. That part of ecology that deals with populations of animals is thus an interesting partition, and as a distinct area of study is well-justified by historical development and current practice.

General Overviews

Population ecology, perhaps more than other subfields of ecology, has what Vandermeer and Goldberg 2013 call a “canon”: a set of fundamental principles and areas of study that form a common core of the discipline, including exponential population growth, logistic growth, age structure, predation, competition, and other interspecific interactions, and more recently, a consideration of the extension of the population in space in metapopulation dynamics (for this spatial aspect, see also the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on “Metapopulations and Spatial Population Processes”). Allee, et al. 1949 were the first to set out in detail the basic form of this canon. Levin 2009 provides a comprehensive review of all of ecology, including extensive treatment of population ecology. Vandermeer and Goldberg 2013 provide an empirical and theoretical overview, while Ranta, et al. 2006 and Rockwood 2015 are more theoretical in their approach. Gotelli 2008 is a very clear exposition of the theoretical canon of population ecology at an introductory level.

  • Allee, W. C., A. E. Emerson, O. Park, T. Park, and K. P. Schmidt. 1949. Principles of animal ecology. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders.

    This was the first comprehensive, detailed treatise on animal ecology. Its seven chapters on population cover general properties, biological backgrounds, demographic backgrounds, growth form, selected problems, aggregations, and organized insect societies. It remains a benchmark for judging progress in population ecology.

  • Gotelli, N. J. 2008. A primer of ecology. 4th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

    An excellent overview of theoretical population ecology, building the theory of population dynamics from elementary growth through to metapopulations, competition, and predation; and concluding with some community ecological topics.

  • Levin, S. A., ed. 2009. The Princeton guide to ecology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    A comprehensive overview of all of ecology. Part II, of 13 chapters, is on population ecology, but many directly relevant chapters occur in other parts, including Schoener on the ecological niche, Doak and colleagues on population viability, Hilborn on fisheries management, and Boyce and colleagues on wildlife management.

  • Ranta, E., P. Lundberg, and V. Kaitala. 2006. Ecology of Populations. Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A monograph that is wide-ranging in scope, building from relatively simple models of birth and death to a variety of population and community phenomena, including spatial patterns and processes. It is primarily theoretical.

  • Rockwood, L. L. 2015. Introduction to population ecology. 2d ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    An advanced undergraduate/graduate text, with a theoretical emphasis, and a strong consideration of an array of interspecific interactions, including host-parasite and plant-herbivore interactions.

  • Vandermeer, J. H., and D. E. Goldberg. 2013. Population Ecology. 2d ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    An advanced undergraduate/graduate text, presenting an overview of what the authors justifiably call the “canon,” from elementary population dynamics through predation and competition, including spatial patterns and processes.

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