Early development of the instabilities in a dilute nuclear source is investigated using a finite temperature quantal RPA approach for different systems, The growth rates of the unstable collective modes are determined by solving a dispersion relation, which is obtained by parametrizing the transition density in terms of its multipole moments. Under typical conditions of a dilute finite system at moderate temperatures the dispersion relation exhibits an ultraviolet cut-off. As a result, only a finite number of multipole modes becomes unstable, and the number of the unstable collective modes increases with the size of the source. Calculations indicate that for an expanding source, unstable modes show a transition from surface to volume character. (C) 1997 Published by Elsevier Science B.V.