Abstract: Background, aim, and scope Ecological carrying capacity (ECC) is a research frontier in the domain of ecology, geography and economics, which is of great significance for the coordinated and sustainable development of local social economy. The concept of carrying capacity can be dated back to the 1920s, which is used to describe the limitation of natural resources and environment and its influence in the development of human society. Since 1990s, with the continuous expansion of the application scope on carrying capacity, and the concept of ecological carrying capacity has been derived. In this study, we aim to put forward the fields and directions of ecological carrying capacity that need to be strengthened in the future through comparing the models and methods and analyzing existing problem. Materials and methods The conception of ecological carrying capacity, connotation, research field, research institutions were analyzed, and various research methods, advantages and disadvantages of models were also analyzed and compared on the basis of comparative analysis the different models. Last, the deficiencies of current research of ecological carrying capacity and the research direction in the future were summarized. Results Seen from the perspective methods, it mainly includes: (1) comprehensive evaluation indicator system; (2) product cycle comprehensive evaluation method; (3) comprehensive evaluation method combining different disciplines and methods. Discussion There is a lack of scientific and complete research system, a universal evaluation index system has not been built and the evolution trend and simulation research are scarce. Conclusions Theresearch on ecological carrying capacity should be lucubrated as follows: (1) to strengthen the integration research on ecological carrying capacity model. Ecological carrying capacity is very complex field, involving resources, environment, ecology, society, economy and many other discipline, it is necessary to integrate the mutual relations and influence mechanism among various elements, and conduct different model integration and comprehensive research. (2) establish the comprehensive indicator system, including five major categories of indicators: population, economy, resources, environment and ecology. Start from the active factor, passive factor, dynamic factor and static factor, and build a comprehensive and relatively universal evaluation system; (3) strengthen the dynamic simulation research, and realize the estimation of ecological carrying capacity potential and the prediction of dynamic change process; (4) study the spatial and temporal variation characteristics and spatial differentiation of ecological carrying capacity at different scales, and analyze the accuracy requirements of each model at different scales and the reliability of the results. Recommendations and perspectives The studies on research and model application in ecological carrying capacity have made a great progress and achievements. However, there are still some shortages concerning scientific and complete research system, universal evaluation index system, and the evolution trend and simulation research which have not been addressed and investigated further. As mentioned above problems, we suggested research directions that we need to do in future works.
Keywords: ecological carrying capacity; assessment methods; sustainable development; research progress