The number of individuals in a natural population varies with time. If the size of a population declines too drastically due to some reason, it may become extinct, but may later be re-established by immigration from other populations. On the other hand, increase in size of a population is not infinite since the carrying capacity of the environment always imposes a restriction upon it. In spite of such fluctuations, however, an outstanding feature of most large populations is that their average size changes relatively little over the years and certainly less than is expected from their biotic potentials. This indicates that population sizes are regulated in such a way that small population grow fast, larger populations grow more slowly and still larger populations decline.
Let us see what brings about such ecological homeostasis. In low-diversity, physically stressed ecosystems or in those subjected to irregular or unpredictable external perturbations, populations tend to be regulated by physical components such as weather, water, chemical limiting factors, pollution etc. In high diversity ecosystems, or in those which are not physically stressed, populations tend to be biologically controlled. In all ecosystems there is a strong tendency for all populations to evolve through natural selection towards self-regulation such as failure of reproduction and self-inflicted mortality. Even though this is difficult to achieve under external stress. It is because over-population is not in best interests of any population. Thus it can be said that limitation of number in any population is brought about by the action and interaction of two basic regulatory processes namely density dependent and density independent factors. We will discuss these processes in the following subsections.