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Concept: Overpopulation


BACKGROUND: Geographic variables play an important role in the study of epidemics. The role of one such variable, population density, in the spread of influenza is controversial. Prior studies have tested for such a role using arbitrary thresholds for population density above or below which places are hypothesized to have higher or lower mortality. The results of such studies are mixed. The objective of this study is to estimate, rather than assume, a threshold level of population density that separates low-density regions from high-density regions on the basis of population loss during an influenza pandemic. We study the case of the influenza pandemic of 1918–19 in India, where over 15 million people died in the short span of less than one year. METHODS: Using data from six censuses for 199 districts of India (n=1194), the country with the largest number of deaths from the influenza of 1918–19, we use a sample-splitting method embedded within a population growth model that explicitly quantifies population loss from the pandemic to estimate a threshold level of population density that separates low-density districts from high-density districts. RESULTS: The results demonstrate a threshold level of population density of 175 people per square mile. A concurrent finding is that districts on the low side of the threshold experienced rates of population loss (3.72%) that were lower than districts on the high side of the threshold (4.69%). CONCLUSIONS: This paper introduces a useful analytic tool to the health geographic literature. It illustrates an application of the tool to demonstrate that it can be useful for pandemic awareness and preparedness efforts. Specifically, it estimates a level of population density above which policies to socially distance, redistribute or quarantine populations are likely to be more effective than they are for areas with population densities that lie below the threshold.

Concepts: Demography, Population, Population ecology, Geography, Population density, Pandemic, World population, Overpopulation


Phytophthora infestans, the cause of potato late blight, is infamous for having triggered the Irish Great Famine in the 1840s. Until the late 1970s, P. infestans diversity outside of its Mexican center of origin was low, and one scenario held that a single strain, US-1, had dominated the global population for 150 years; this was later challenged based on DNA analysis of historical herbarium specimens. We have compared the genomes of 11 herbarium and 15 modern strains. We conclude that the 19th century epidemic was caused by a unique genotype, HERB-1, that persisted for over 50 years. HERB-1 is distinct from all examined modern strains, but it is a close relative of US-1, which replaced it outside of Mexico in the 20th century. We propose that HERB-1 and US-1 emerged from a metapopulation that was established in the early 1800s outside of the species' center of diversity. DOI:

Concepts: DNA, Potato, Oomycete, Phytophthora infestans, Overpopulation, Great Famine, Potatoes, Phytophthora


We document that China’s One-Child Policy, one of the most radical approaches to limiting population growth, has produced significantly less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, and less conscientious individuals. Our data were collected from economics experiments conducted with 421 individuals born just before and just after the One-Child Policy’s introduction in 1979. Surveys to elicit personality traits were also used. We use the exogenous imposition of the One-Child Policy to identify the causal impact of being an only child, net of family background effects. The One-Child Policy thus has significant ramifications for Chinese society.

Concepts: Family planning, Demography, China, People's Republic of China, Big Five personality traits, Overpopulation, One-child policy, Only child


Tropical deforestation has caused a significant share of carbon emissions and species losses, but historical patterns have rarely been explicitly considered when estimating these impacts [1]. A deforestation event today leads to a time-delayed future release of carbon, from the eventual decay either of forest products or of slash left at the site [2]. Similarly, deforestation often does not result in the immediate loss of species, and communities may exhibit a process of “relaxation” to their new equilibrium over time [3]. We used a spatially explicit land cover change model [4] to reconstruct the annual rates and spatial patterns of tropical deforestation that occurred between 1950 and 2009 in the Amazon, in the Congo Basin, and across Southeast Asia. Using these patterns, we estimated the resulting gross vegetation carbon emissions [2, 5] and species losses over time [6]. Importantly, we accounted for the time lags inherent in both the release of carbon and the extinction of species. We show that even if deforestation had completely halted in 2010, time lags ensured there would still be a carbon emissions debt of at least 8.6 petagrams, equivalent to 5-10 years of global deforestation, and an extinction debt of more than 140 bird, mammal, and amphibian forest-specific species, which if paid, would increase the number of 20(th)-century extinctions in these groups by 120%. Given the magnitude of these debts, commitments to reduce emissions and biodiversity loss are unlikely to be realized without specific actions that directly address this damaging environmental legacy.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Biodiversity, Evolution, Southeast Asia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Global warming, Overpopulation, Deforestation


Large-mammal populations are ecological linchpins, and their worldwide decline and extinction disrupts many ecosystem functions and services. Reversal of this trend will require an understanding of the determinants of population decline, to enable more accurate predictions of when and where collapses will occur and to guide the development of effective conservation and restoration policies. Many correlates of large-mammal declines are known, including low reproductive rates, overhunting, and habitat destruction. However, persistent uncertainty about the effects of one widespread factor-armed conflict-complicates conservation-planning and priority-setting efforts. Case studies have revealed that conflict can have either positive or negative local impacts on wildlife, but the direction and magnitude of its net effect over large spatiotemporal scales have not previously been quantified. Here we show that conflict frequency predicts the occurrence and severity of population declines among wild large herbivores in African protected areas from 1946 to 2010. Conflict was extensive during this period, occurring in 71% of protected areas, and conflict frequency was the single most important predictor of wildlife population trends among the variables that we analysed. Population trajectories were stable in peacetime, fell significantly below replacement with only slight increases in conflict frequency (one conflict-year per two-to-five decades), and were almost invariably negative in high-conflict sites, both in the full 65-year dataset and in an analysis restricted to recent decades (1989-2010). Yet total population collapse was infrequent, indicating that war-torn faunas can often recover. Human population density was also correlated (positively) with wildlife population trajectories in recent years; however, we found no significant effect, in either timespan, of species body mass, protected-area size, conflict intensity (human fatalities), drought frequency, presence of extractable mineral resources, or various metrics of development and governance. Our results suggest that sustained conservation activity in conflict zones-and rapid interventions following ceasefires-may help to save many at-risk populations and species.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Demography, Population, Population ecology, Population density, World population, Overpopulation


Rapid economic development in the past century has translated into severe pressures on species survival as a result of increasing land-use change, environmental pollution, and the spread of invasive alien species. However, though the impact of these pressures on biodiversity is substantial, it could be seriously underestimated if population declines of plants and animals lag behind contemporary environmental degradation. Here, we test for such a delay in impact by relating numbers of threatened species appearing on national red lists to historical and contemporary levels of socioeconomic pressures. Across 22 European countries, the proportions of vascular plants, bryophytes, mammals, reptiles, dragonflies, and grasshoppers facing medium-to-high extinction risks are more closely matched to indicators of socioeconomic pressures (i.e., human population density, per capita gross domestic product, and a measure of land use intensity) from the early or mid-, rather than the late, 20th century. We conclude that, irrespective of recent conservation actions, large-scale risks to biodiversity lag considerably behind contemporary levels of socioeconomic pressures. The negative impact of human activities on current biodiversity will not become fully realized until several decades into the future. Mitigating extinction risks might be an even greater challenge if temporal delays mean many threatened species might already be destined toward extinction.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Plant, Population density, Endangered species, Invasive species, Overpopulation, IUCN Red List


Plant-based diets in comparison to diets rich in animal products are more sustainable because they use many fewer natural resources and are less taxing on the environment. Given the global population explosion and increase in wealth, there is an increased demand for foods of animal origin. Environmental data are rapidly accumulating on the unsustainability of current worldwide food consumption practices that are high in meat and dairy products. Natural nonrenewable resources are becoming scarce, and environmental degradation is rapidly increasing. At the current trends of food consumption and environmental changes, food security and food sustainability are on a collision course. Changing course (to avoid the collision) will require extreme downward shifts in meat and dairy consumption by large segments of the world’s population. Other approaches such as food waste reduction and precision agriculture and/or other technological advances have to be simultaneously pursued; however, they are insufficient to make the global food system sustainable. For millennia, meatless diets have been advocated on the basis of values, and large segments of the world population have thrived on plant-based diets. “Going back” to plant-based diets worldwide seems to be a reasonable alternative for a sustainable future. Policies in favor of the global adoption of plant-based diets will simultaneously optimize the food supply, health, environmental, and social justice outcomes for the world’s population. Implementing such nutrition policy is perhaps one of the most rational and moral paths for a sustainable future of the human race and other living creatures of the biosphere that we share.

Concepts: Human, Agriculture, Food security, World population, Famine, Green Revolution, Overpopulation, 2007–2008 world food price crisis


The 2013-2016 West African epidemic caused by the Ebola virus was of unprecedented magnitude, duration and impact. Here we reconstruct the dispersal, proliferation and decline of Ebola virus throughout the region by analysing 1,610 Ebola virus genomes, which represent over 5% of the known cases. We test the association of geography, climate and demography with viral movement among administrative regions, inferring a classic ‘gravity’ model, with intense dispersal between larger and closer populations. Despite attenuation of international dispersal after border closures, cross-border transmission had already sown the seeds for an international epidemic, rendering these measures ineffective at curbing the epidemic. We address why the epidemic did not spread into neighbouring countries, showing that these countries were susceptible to substantial outbreaks but at lower risk of introductions. Finally, we reveal that this large epidemic was a heterogeneous and spatially dissociated collection of transmission clusters of varying size, duration and connectivity. These insights will help to inform interventions in future epidemics.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Demography, Population, Geography, Biological warfare, Viral hemorrhagic fever, Region, Overpopulation


Ways of increasing the production of wheat, the most widely grown cereal crop, will need to be found to meet the increasing demand caused by human population growth in the coming decades. This increase must occur despite the decrease in yield gains now being reported in some regions, increased price volatility and the expected increase in the frequency of adverse weather events that can reduce yields. However, if and how the frequency of adverse weather events will change over Europe, the most important wheat-growing area, has not yet been analysed. Here, we show that the accumulated probability of 11 adverse weather events with the potential to significantly reduce yield will increase markedly across all of Europe. We found that by the end of the century, the exposure of the key European wheat-growing areas, where most wheat production is currently concentrated, may increase more than twofold. However, if we consider the entire arable land area of Europe, a greater than threefold increase in risk was predicted. Therefore, shifting wheat production to new producing regions to reduce the risk might not be possible as the risk of adverse events beyond the key wheat-growing areas increases even more. Furthermore, we found a marked increase in wheat exposure to high temperatures, severe droughts and field inaccessibility compared with other types of adverse events. Our results also showed the limitations of some of the presently debated adaptation options and demonstrated the need for development of region-specific strategies. Other regions of the world could be affected by adverse weather events in the future in a way different from that considered here for Europe. This observation emphasizes the importance of conducting similar analyses for other major wheat regions.

Concepts: Agriculture, Climate, Wheat, Climate change, Cereal, World population, Overpopulation, Arable land


School closure as a non-pharmaceutical measure appeared as an efficient strategy in previous epidemics. We investigated the impact of school closure on the epidemic peak whether implemented before or after the epidemic reaches its peak. We also investigated the optimal duration of closure.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Pandemic, Common cold, Epidemic, Overpopulation, Epizootic, Epidemics