Author(s): Russell C, Russell WM, Russell C, Russell WM
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Abstract To prevent a population irretrievably depleting its resources, mammals have evolved a behavioural and physiological response to population crisis. When a mammalian population becomes dangerously dense, there is a reversal of behaviour. Co-operation and parental behaviour are replaced by competition, dominance and aggressive violence, leading to high mortality, especially of females and young, and a reduced population. The stress of overpopulation and the resulting violence impairs both the immune and the reproductive systems. Hence epidemics complete the crash of the population, and reproduction is slowed for three or four generations, giving the resources ample time to recover. In some mammal species, crisis and crisis response recur regularly, leading to cycles of population growth and relapse, oscillating about a fixed mean. Population crisis response and population cycles have been equally prominent in the history of human societies. But in man successive advances in food production have made possible growing populations, though with every such advance population soon outgrew resources again. Hence human cycles have been superimposed on a rising curve, producing a saw-tooth graph. Because advances in food production amounted to sudden disturbances in the relations between human populations and their environments, the crisis response in man has failed to avert famine and resource damage. In the large human societies evolved since the coming of settled agriculture and cities, the basic effects of violence, epidemics, famine and resource damage have been mediated by such specifically human disasters as inflation, unemployment, and political tyranny. An account of past crises, periods of relative relief from population pressure, and resulting cycles, is given for a number of regions: China, North Africa and Western Asia, the northern Mediterranean, and north-western Europe. The paper ends with an account of the present world-wide population crisis, and the solution made possible by Malthus's discovery that, unlike animals, we can choose to check population growth by reducing the birth-rate, instead of raising the death-rate, as in other mammals, by the population crisis response.
This article was published in Med Confl Surviv
and referenced in Journal of Defense Management