Current issues in population dynamics are discussed in the context of The Royal Society Discussion Meeting 'Population growth rate: determining factors and role in population regulation'. In particular, different views on the centrality of population growth rates to the study of population dynamics and the role of experiments and theory are explored. Major themes emerging include the role of modern statistical techniques in bringing together experimental and theoretical studies, the importance of long-term experimentation and the need for ecology to have model systems, and the value of population growth rate as a means of understanding and predicting population change. The last point is illustrated by the application of a recently introduced technique, integral projection modelling, to study the population growth rate of a monocarpic perennial plant, its elasticities to different life-history components and the evolution of an evolutionarily stable strategy size at flowering.
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