What checks the natural tendency of each species to increase in number is most obscure.
The amount of food for each species of course gives the extreme limit to which each can increase; but very frequently it is not the obtaining food, but the serving as prey to other animals, which determines the average numbers of a species.
But this is a very false view: we forget that each species, even where it most abounds, is constantly suffering enormous destruction at some period of its life, from enemies or from competitors for the same place and food; and if these enemies or competitors be in the least degree favoured by any slight change of climate, they will increase in numbers, and, as each area is already fully stocked with inhabitants, the other species will decrease.
Thus we can easily raise plenty of corn and rape-seed, &c., in our fields, because the seeds are in great excess compared with the number of birds which feed on them; nor can the birds, though having a superabundance of food at this one season, increase in number proportionally to the supply of seed, as their numbers are checked during winter: but any one who has tried, knows how troublesome it is to get seed from a few wheat or other such plants in a garden; I have in this case lost every single seed.
The increase of these flies, numerous as they are, must be habitually checked by some means, probably by birds.
What a struggle between the several kinds of trees must here have gone on during long centuries, each annually scattering its seeds by the thousand; what war between insect and insect--between insects, snails, and other animals with birds and beasts of prey--all striving to increase, and all feeding on each other or on the trees or their seeds and seedlings, or on the other plants which first clothed the ground and thus checked the growth of the trees!
The recent increase of the missel-thrush in parts of Scotland has caused the decrease of the song-thrush.
If we wished to increase its average numbers in its new home, we should have to modify it in a different way to what we should have done in its native country; for we should have to give it some advantage over a different set of competitors or enemies.
All that we can do, is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase at a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life, and to suffer great destruction.
There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally increases at so high a rate, that if not destroyed, the earth would soon be covered by the progeny of a single pair.
When a species, owing to highly favourable circumstances, increases inordinately in numbers in a small tract, epidemics--at least, this seems generally to occur with our game animals--often ensue: and here we have a limiting check independent of the struggle for life.