Lt. Uhura learned a lesson about biotic potential in Star Trek’s 44th episode airing on NBC December 29, 1967 when she accepted a tribble from the trader, Cyrano Jones. The tribbles are both endearing and incredibly dangerous as they invade the enterprise’s systems eating everything and multiplying asexually at an alarming rate.
While they are getting unlimited food, their growth rate proceeds at their biotic potential, that is entirely unrestricted and proceeding at the maximal rate. While the environment supplies food in excess of what is needed and no other constraints are imposed, such as predators or lack of shelter, this rate of growth will be maintained.
At this point we may observe a ‘J’ shaped growth curve that will either completely crash once resources are depleted, or the limitations of resources will impose themselves more gradually resulting in an “S” shaped curve.
Once one or more requirements become limiting, the rate of growth will reduce until it plateaus. At this point the rate of death is equal to the birth rate and the population will remain at a constant number. Without the input of additional food (or other requirements), the direction of growth will reverse and the population will enter the ‘death phase’ as deaths outnumber births and the population contracts.
Reverend Thomas Malthus was alarmed by the rapid expansion of the human population worldwide in 1798 and wrote his famous essay, An Essay on the Principle of Population, warning of the imminent tragedy that befalls populations that grow as fast as our own.