What are the mechanisms responsible for generating the erratic fluctuations observed in natural populations? This question has been at the centre of a long debate in contemporary ecology. The irregularities in the patterns of population abundance were initially mostly attributed to environmental factors. In the mid–1970s, however, it was proposed that these fluctuations may be generated intrinsically, by the underlying nonlinearities inherent in population processes. More recently, the focus of this argument has turned increasingly towards the statistical properties of population fluctuations, with many studies showing that ecological systems tend to be dominated by low–frequency or long–term dynamics, termed ‘red’ noise. Currently, the source of the ‘redness’ in ecological time–series is hotly debated, with the general consensus being that environmental variables are the major driving force. Here we show that three classic laboratory populations known to display irregular fluctuations also have reddened spectra. Furthermore, the dynamics of these populations show very well–defined generic scaling properties in the form of power laws. These results imply that long–term influences in ecological systems can be the product of intrinsic dynamics.