JOURNAL OF NATURAL RESOURCES ›› 2018, Vol. 33 ›› Issue (9): 1475-1489.doi: 10.31497/zrzyxb.20170967

• Theoretical Discussion •     Next Articles

The Genesis and Evolution of the Concept of Carrying Capacity: A View of Natural Resources and Environment

FENG Zhi-ming1,2, LI Peng1,2   

  1. 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China;
    2. College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100190, China
  • Received:2017-09-19 Revised:2017-11-17 Online:2018-09-20 Published:2018-09-20
  • Supported by:
    ; The National Key Research and Development Program of China, No. 2016YFC0503500; Science and Technology Major Project of Science and Technology Department of Tibet, No. Z2016C01G01/04/05.

Abstract: Understanding the genesis and evolution of the concept of carrying capacity scientifically is of great scientific value and realistic significance to carry out theoretical investigation and practical research of resources and environmental carrying capacity (RECC). With the perspective of natural resources and environment, in this paper, starting from the terminology of ecological carrying capacity established based on the maximum biomass of individual species, the terminology of resources carrying capacity (RCC) developed based on the relationship of human population and natural resources, to the terminology of environmental carrying capacity formed based on the relationship of human population and environment, and then to the integrated term of RECC oriented to regional sustainable development, the genesis and evolution process of RECC were comprehensively summarized in a longitudinal fashion. This preliminary review paper was typically relied on the currently available historical English literatures (e.g. published papers, books and reports) as well as some literatures in Chinese. This review paper showed that the term of Carrying Capacity originated in the fields of engineering and mechanism which belong to the study of Physics in 1840s. It then achieved continuous but controversial development in Ecology, Geography, Resource Science and Environmental Science. To our knowledge, the concept of RECC can be mirrored in the studies of energy carrying capacity and carrying capacity of animal husbandry in the earlier 1900s. It was not until the late 1940s that the examination of land carrying capacity symbolized the born of RCC. In the late 1990s, a comprehensive concept of carrying capacity or RECC was reported occasionally without gaining too much public attention. However, strictly speaking, the related analysis of RECC in China was just started in the early 2000s. Overall, the RECC related studies in China are currently at their developing stage featured by concept discussion and qualitative analysis, although the concept of RECC has gained much attention from national decision-making departments. In contrast, similar studies of RECC are seldom reported abroad. Entering the 21st century, labelled as an important indicator for describing the restriction degree of development, the practical importance of the RECC related studies is gaining and/or will gain more and more attention from the scientific community of natural resources and environment as well as the central government. For example, there were several projects supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China during 2016-2018. However, the concept of carrying capacity has seemingly become a ready-made panacea which is widely generalized in many research aspects or has a conceptualization tendency. In terms of these issues, it is necessary to clarify and rectify the genesis and evolution of RECC thoroughly and strengthen continuous studies of RECC from the perspectives of scientific connotation and theoretical basis, technical approaches and model parameters, as well as the standardization for practical utilization.

Key words: carrying capacity, ecological carrying capacity, environmental carrying capacity, resources and environmental carrying capacity, resources carrying capacity

CLC Number: 

  • X24