Mammal population regulation, keystone processes and ecosystem dynamics

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2003 Oct 29;358(1438):1729-40. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2003.1359.


The theory of regulation in animal populations is fundamental to understanding the dynamics of populations, the causes of mortality and how natural selection shapes the life history of species. In mammals, the great range in body size allows us to see how allometric relationships affect the mode of regulation. Resource limitation is the fundamental cause of regulation. Top-down limitation through predators is determined by four factors: (i). body size; (ii). the diversity of predators and prey in the system; (iii). whether prey are resident or migratory; and (iv). the presence of alternative prey for predators. Body size in mammals has two important consequences. First, mammals, particularly large species, can act as keystones that determine the diversity of an ecosystem. I show how keystone processes can, in principle, be measured using the example of the wildebeest in the Serengeti ecosystem. Second, mammals act as ecological landscapers by altering vegetation succession. Mammals alter physical structure, ecological function and species diversity in most terrestrial biomes. In general, there is a close interaction between allometry, population regulation, life history and ecosystem dynamics. These relationships are relevant to applied aspects of conservation and pest management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Constitution
  • Ecosystem*
  • Food Chain*
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Selection, Genetic*