Mains Daily Question
Feb. 16, 2024

Q1. What is the carrying capacity of an ecosystem? Using examples from India, elaborate on the impact of the breach of carrying capacity. (10M, 150W)

Model Answer


Understanding and structuring the answer:

The answer has 2 main headings - ‘Carrying Capacity of an ecosystem’ and ‘Breach of Carrying Capacity in India’. It can be structured as given below.


Define Carrying Capacity. 


Heading-1: Explain the Carrying Capacity of an Ecosystem.

Heading-2: Breach of Carrying Capacity in India.


Give an optimistic conclusion while talking about sustainability.

Answer: Carrying capacity refers to the maximum population size of a species that a given ecosystem can sustainably support over the long term without degradation of the environment. 

Carrying Capacity of an Ecosystem

  • Natural Resource Availability: It is determined by factors such as the availability of resources like food, water, and shelter.
  • Waste Absorption: It also depends on the ecosystem's ability to absorb waste and regenerate resources. 
  • Environmental conditions: Dependent on the conditions such as climate, soil fertility, and the presence of predators and competitors. 
  • Population Dynamics: It is a fundamental concept in understanding population dynamics and the interactions between organisms and their environment.
  • Overshoot: When a population exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment, it may lead to resource depletion, habitat destruction, competition for limited resources, increased predation, and ultimately, population decline or collapse. This phenomenon is often referred to as "overshoot" and can have detrimental effects on both the species and the ecosystem as a whole.

Breach of Carrying Capacity in India

    • Water Resources: India's per capita water availability has dipped below 1700 cubic meters, placing it in the "water-stressed" category (World Bank, 2023).
      • Impact: Over 60% of India's assessed aquifers are in a critical or overexploited state (Central Ground Water Board, 2022), impacting agricultural productivity and threatening drinking water security for millions.
      • Example: The Yamuna River, Delhi's lifeline, often dries up due to over-extraction, impacting over 20 million people and aquatic life (CPCB, 2023).
    • Urbanization and Land Use: India's urban population is expected to reach 600 million by 2030, requiring an additional 700,000 hectares of land (NITI Aayog, 2022).


  • Example: Chennai urban flood due to encroachments, faulty drainage systems and tampering of natural course of water had made the megapolis prone to flooding every year.


    • Loss of Forest due to diversion of forest land: India has lost 20% of its forest cover since 1950 (Forest Survey of India, 2021).
      • Impact: Deforestation for urban expansion has increased 300% since 2001 (World Resources Institute, 2023), threatening biodiversity and ecosystem services.
      • Example: Mumbai's Aarey forest controversy highlights the conflict between development and conservation, with a potential loss of 2,500 trees critical for carbon sequestration and air quality.


  • Loss of Biodiversity: 


    • Impact: Deforestation, disrupts water cycles, increases soil erosion have increased the loss of endangered species like the Western Ghats' lion-tailed macaque.
    • Example: Illegal logging and encroachment threaten the Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot with over 5,000 endemic plant species and 27% of India's wildlife.
  • Air Pollution: 21 Indian cities rank among the world's most polluted (World Air Quality Report, 2023). Delhi's PM2.5 levels often exceed 400 µg/m³, 40 times the WHO safe limit.
    • Impact: Air pollution causes respiratory illnesses, reduces agricultural yields, and damages ecosystems through acid rain and smog.
    • Example: Delhi's air pollution contributes to over 30,000 premature deaths annually, highlighting the severe health and environmental costs.
  • Coastal Ecosystems: Sea level rise along India's coastline is projected to be 0.32-0.99 meters by 2100 (Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services, 2023).
    • Impact: Mangroves, crucial for coastal protection and fisheries, are threatened by rising sea levels, pollution, and development.
    • Example: The Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, faces habitat loss and displacement of endangered species like the Royal Bengal Tiger due to climate change and human activities.

From water scarcity and air pollution to deforestation and coastal erosion, the impacts of exceeding carrying capacity are tangible and threaten human well-being and ecosystem health. Embracing sustainable practices, investing in conservation efforts, and respecting ecological limits are crucial for safeguarding India's future.

Subjects : Environment
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