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number marked first catch  ×  total number second catch number marked second catch   =   N

Using our example, the population size would be 400.

80   ×  100 20   =   400

These results give us an estimate of 400 total individuals in the original population. The true number usually will be a bit different from this because of chance errors and possible bias caused by the sampling methods.

Species distribution

In addition to measuring density, further information about a population can be obtained by looking at the distribution of the individuals throughout their range. A species distribution pattern    is the distribution of individuals within a habitat at a particular point in time—broad categories of patterns are used to describe them.

Individuals within a population can be distributed at random, in groups, or equally spaced apart (more or less). These are known as random, clumped, and uniform distribution patterns, respectively ( [link] ). An example of random distribution occurs with dandelion and other plants that have wind-dispersed seeds that germinate wherever they happen to fall in favorable environments. A clumped distribution, may be seen in plants that drop their seeds straight to the ground, such as oak trees; it can also be seen in animals that live in social groups (schools of fish or herds of elephants). Uniform distribution is observed in plants that secrete substances inhibiting the growth of nearby individuals (such as the release of toxic chemicals by sage plants). It is also seen in territorial animal species, such as penguins that maintain a defined territory for nesting. The territorial defensive behaviors of each individual create a regular pattern of distribution of similar-sized territories and individuals within those territories. Thus, the distribution of the individuals within a population provides more information about how they interact with each other than does a simple density measurement.

 Photo (a) shows penguins, which maintain a defined territory and, therefore, have a uniform distribution. Photo (b) shows a field of dandelions whose seeds are dispersed by wind, resulting in a random distribution patter. Photo (c) shows elephants, which travel in herds resulting in a clumped distribution pattern.
Species may have a random, clumped, or uniform distribution. Plants such as (a) dandelions with wind-dispersed seeds tend to be randomly distributed. Animals such as (b) elephants that travel in groups exhibit a clumped distribution. Territorial birds such as (c) penguins tend to have a uniform distribution. (credit a: modification of work by Rosendahl; credit b: modification of work by Rebecca Wood; credit c: modification of work by Ben Tubby)


While population size and density describe a population at one particular point in time, scientists must use demography to study the dynamics of a population. Demography is the statistical study of population changes over time: birth rates, death rates, and life expectancies. These population characteristics are often displayed in a life table.

Life tables

Life tables provide important information about the life history of an organism and the life expectancy of individuals at each age. They are modeled after actuarial tables used by the insurance industry for estimating human life expectancy. Life tables may include the probability of each age group dying before their next birthday, the percentage of surviving individuals dying at a particular age interval (their mortality rate    , and their life expectancy at each interval. An example of a life table is shown in [link] from a study of Dall mountain sheep, a species native to northwestern North America. Notice that the population is divided into age intervals (column A). The mortality rate (per 1000) shown in column D is based on the number of individuals dying during the age interval (column B), divided by the number of individuals surviving at the beginning of the interval (Column C) multiplied by 1000.

Practice Key Terms 9

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Source:  OpenStax, Environmental biology. OpenStax CNX. Aug 10, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11863/1.1
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