Density dependence: an ecological Tower of Babel

Salvador Herrando-Pérez, Steve Delean, Barry W Brook, Corey J A Bradshaw

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


The concept of density dependence represents the effect of changing population size on demographic rates and captures the demographic role of social and trophic mechanisms (e. g. competition, cooperation, parasitism or predation). Ecologists have coined more than 60 terms to denote different statistical and semantic properties of this concept, resulting in a formidable lexicon of synonymies and polysemies. We have examined the vocabulary of density dependence used in the modern ecological literature from the foundational lexicon developed by Smith, Allee, Haldane, Neave and Varley. A few simple rules suffice to abate terminological inconsistency and to enhance the biological meaning of this important concept. Correct citation of original references by ecologists and research journals could ameliorate terminological standards in our discipline and avoid linguistic confusion of mathematically and theoretically complex patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)585-603
Number of pages19
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Allee effect
  • Demographic rate
  • Density feedback
  • Population dynamics
  • Regulation
  • Terminology


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