Limiting Factor: Definition, Characteristic, and Examples

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Limiting Factor Definition

In biology, a limiting factor is any element in the environment that might restrict a process, such as the development, abundance, or dispersion of a population of organisms in an ecosystem. Examples of ideas or laws that may be used to explain limiting variables in an ecosystem include Liebig’s law of the minimum, Blackman’s law of limiting factors, and Shelford’s rule of tolerance. The population increase might be limited by the scarcest resources, not the abundant ones, under the law of minimums.

Limiting Factor Etymology

The phrase limiting factor is derived from the Latin words limitare, which means “to bind,” and factor, which means “a doer,” “performer,” and factus, which means “done” or “made.” Limiting resources; ecological factors; and constraining factors are synonyms.

What is Limiting Factor?

A biological or ecological process that is dependent on several elements will likely have a pace restricted by the slowest factor, according to the law of limiting factors. According to the rule of tolerance, an organism’s survival success is said to be determined by a complicated combination of environmental variables.

Density-dependent or density-independent limiting factors are possible. Those that are density-dependent tend to limit population growth, abundance, or dispersion based on population density.

A density-independent limiting factor, on the other hand, can control population growth, abundance, or dispersion regardless of population density. Limiting factors can also be single-limiting, indicating that only one component limits the system. A co-limiting factor is a factor that has an indirect restricting impact or amplifies the effect of a direct limiting factor.

Food, nutrition, shelter, and mate are examples of limiting variables that might restrict the expansion of a population. Because these resources are scarce in the environment, they may force living creatures to compete for them.

Limiting Factor Limitations

The ecosystem is influenced by a variety of limiting forces.

(1) keystone species,

(2) predators,

(3) energy,

(4) accessible area, and

(5) food supply are the factors to consider.

In biology, a limiting factor is a component or variable in the environment that has the ability to limit the development, abundance, or dispersion of a population in an ecosystem. These ingredients are in short supply. As a result, species fight for limited resources in the environment.

Limiting Factor Principle

The concept of limiting factors is described as the notion that a factor in low supply will restrict an organism’s or community’s growth and development. The laws that describe the concepts of limiting factors include Liebig’s law of the minimum, Blackman’s law of limiting factors, and Shelford’s law of tolerance.

i. Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Carl Sprengel created the law of the minimum, which was subsequently popularised by Justus von Liebig. This rule asserts that rather than the total resources available, a limiting factor, i.e., the scarcest resource, controls growth. In biology and ecology, this indicates that the variables that are scarcest limit the expansion of a population, not the factors that are numerous. This was determined by observing crop growth. As a consequence, adding an excess of nutrients did not result in enhanced growth.

Conversely, adding limited nutrients, which is the limiting factor in this situation, resulted in enhanced crop growth. This indicates that even if some nutrients in the soil are abundant, crop development will be limited or limited if other nutrients are limited or scarce. When this concept is applied to other biological groups, it implies that growth occurs only in response to the most limiting constraint. William Cumming Rose utilised this technique to determine the amino acids that were designated as necessary.

ii. Blackman’s Law of Limiting Factor

Frederick Frost Blackman, a British plant scientist, introduced the limiting factor law in 1905. According to this law, the rate of a process that is dependent on several elements is restricted by the slowest factor’s rate. Photosynthesis, for example, is a biological process that is influenced by a number of variables.

6CO2 + 12H2O + energy = C6H12O6 + 6O2 + 6H2O is the general chemical process of photosynthesis. CO2, H2O, and light energy (sunlight) are the reaction’s limiting variables, according to this equation. If any of them becomes available at a slower or lower rate than usual, photosynthesis is predicted to slow down depending on the slowest factor’s rate. Even if H2O and light energy levels are abundant, the rate of photosynthesis slows if CO2 concentrations become limited (e.g., owing to the closing of stomatal openings in response to increased temperatures in the environment).

The same thing will happen if light energy becomes less accessible or strong; photosynthesis will slow down despite the availability of CO2 and H2O. When a plant is unable to capture light, such as owing to shadows caused by a dense population of plants, light becomes a limiting factor in photosynthesis.

iii. Shelford’s Law of Tolerance

Victor Ernest Shelford, an American naturalist, created the law of tolerance in 1913. It asserts that an organism’s success is determined by a complicated collection of environmental variables (environmental factors). And that organism’s performance would be determined by a set of minimal, maximum, and optimum environmental variables. These represent the organism’s tolerance limit. Within the same organism, tolerance ranges might differ, for example, depending on life stage (larval vs. adult).

Types of Limiting Factors
i. Density Dependent Limiting Factor

Density-dependent limiting factor is the density-based element that limits the growth of a population. A big, dense population is more influenced than a small, sparsely populated area. A dense population, for example, would have higher food and water demands than a small population. The limiting element in this situation is food and water availability, which is dependent on density. Disease is also a density-dependent component. It spreads quicker in densely populated areas than in sparsely populated areas.

ii. Density Independent Limiting Factor

The limiting factor that is not reliant on density is known as a density-independent limiting factor. The limiting factor can limit population size regardless of population density. For example, regardless of population density, a catastrophic event such as an earthquake or a volcanic eruption might induce a population drop.

iii. Single Limiting and Co-limiting

When there is just one limiting element in a system, it is called a single-limiting factor. When a factor indirectly impacts the population of species in an environment but enhances the limitation of the factor directly impacting the population, it is referred to as a co-limiting factor.

Limiting Factor Examples

A population will expand exponentially as long as the environment to which all people in that population are exposed remains constant, according to the law of population growth. As a result, assuming environmental circumstances remain unchanged, the population is anticipated to increase. However, there will come a moment when the population outnumbers the environment’s capacity to support it. This is referred to as the carrying capacity, or the environment’s maximum load.

The carrying capacity of an ecosystem refers to the number of people it can support without causing harm or devastation to the organisms or the environment. As a result, population growth may continue until carrying capacity is reached. The population will ultimately shrink if it exceeds this limit. Carrying capacity is determined by limiting variables. Food, water, habitat, and mate are all typical limiting variables in ecosystems. The presence of these elements will have an impact on the environment’s carrying capacity.

As the world’s population grows, so does the need for food. Due to the scarcity of food, organisms will begin to compete for it. The same may be said for nutrients, space, and partners. Because these resources are only accessible for a short time, residents of a given ecosystem will compete, perhaps against other species of the same species (intraspecific competition), or against other groups of species (extraspecific competition) (interspecific competition).

Another common symbiosis in the environment is the predator-prey interaction. If predation is excessive, deer numbers, for example, may suffer. If the number of wolves is larger than the number of deer that they hunt, the deer population may decline. However, as the quantity of deer decreases, the number of wolves may also decrease. In an ecosystem, this predator-prey relationship is an example of a biotic factor.

Abiotic factors comprise the different physico-chemical elements in an ecosystem, and biotic factors include the actions of a biological component of an ecosystem. Sunlight, humidity, temperature, the atmosphere, soil, land geology, and water resources are all examples of physico-chemical variables. Temperature, for example, is a key limiting factor because it influences the efficacy of enzymes and catalysts, which are critical components of an efficient biological and chemical system.

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