What is Ecology?

e·col·o·gy

noun

  1. the branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.
  1. the political movement that seeks to protect the environment, especially from pollution.

(source: Google Definitions)

 

img_1765Ecology is the study of all living organisms and how they relate to their biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) surroundings. It is an interdisciplinary field, incorporating the fields of biology, geography, earth science, chemistry, microbiology, hydrology (study of water) and sometimes even geology.

The word “ecology” was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919)4. Although earlier accounts of ecological thought have been documented. For example, Aristotle and his student, Theophrastus, both had interests in many species of animals and provided early philosophical thought on ecology. Theophrastus described interrelationships between animals and between animals and their environment as early as the 4th century BC3. One of the founding fathers of ecology was German explorer Alexander Humboldt (1769-1859)1. He accompanied early exploratory expeditions during the 18th century when Britain, Spain and Portugal were charting new maritime routes looking to build trade with new countries and looking for new resources to exploit. He was the first to describe the ecological gradient of latitudinal biodiversity as it increased toward the tropics [in 1807]3. Current concepts in modern ecology have a strong foundation in adaptation and evolution through natural selection thanks to Charles Darwin (1809-1882)2.

For more information on the history of ecology check out this website.

Ecology has many “specialties” found within the discipline;

Chemical Ecology– Deals with the chemical processes involved with living organisms, such as plant toxins or molecules used to signal the beginning of the instar stages in insects.

Microbial Ecology– Is focused on the microbes involved in nutrient cycling or the breakdown of compounds within terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Molecular Ecology– Refers to ecological experiments the require molecular skills; such as PCR (polymerase chain reaction) or cloning and is usually interested in examining genes within living organisms.

Hierarchical Ecology– Describes the arrangement of biological organisms in relation to one another. 5

Individual Ecology– Studies the interactions between organisms and their environment.4

Population Ecology– Questions what factors affect population and how and why a population changes over time. 6

Community Ecology– An evaluation or study of multiple (more than one) populations of organisms occupying the same geographical location at the same time.

Behavioral Ecology-The study of the evolutionary basis for animal behavior due to ecological pressures. 7

Social Ecology– Concerned with the altruistic (selfless) behaviors of eusocial animals (social animals that divide members into distinct behavioral groups) such as ants, bees, and mole-rats.

Cognitive Ecology– Examines how animals use information obtained from their environment, relate it to themselves and then use it to survive.8

Evolutionary Ecology– Involves both ecology and evolution by looking at how interactions between organisms evolve; such as prey/predator interactions, or pathogen/host interactions.

Ecosystem Ecology– Involves the biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components of the environment; how they interact and they are influenced by natural and human induced changes. 9

Landscape Ecology– The study of landscape (ecosystems within a region of interest) patterns and interactions, how those patterns and interactions change over time and what effects those changes will have on ecological processes found within the landscape.

Conservation Biology– The management of nature and biodiversity by protecting species, their habitats and ecosystems from extinction and erosion.10

Biogeography– The study of geographical distributions of plants and animals.

Marine Biology and Oceanography are sometimes considered sub disciplines of ecology as well.

 

I’m pretty hesitant when it comes to Wikipedia but I found their information on ecology to be rather accurate. I especially liked this quote from their page on ecology;

“Ecology addresses the full scale of life, from tiny bacteria to processes that span the entire planet. Ecologists study many diverse and complex relations among species, such as predation and pollination. The diversity of life is organized into different habitats, from terrestrial (land) to aquatic ecosystems.”4

 

 

 

References:

  1. http://environment-ecology.com/history-of-ecology/132-history-of-ecology.html
  2. ^ Stauffer, R.C. (1957) Haeckel, Darwin and Ecology. Quarterly Review of Biology 32: 138-144
  3. Ramalay, Francis. 1940. The growth of a science. Univ. Colorado Stud., 26: 3-14.
  4. Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecology
  5. http://education.seattlepi.com/ecological-hierarchy-4489.html
  6. http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/population-ecology-13228167
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_ecology
  8. http://www.elasmo-research.org/education/white_shark/cognition.htm
  9. http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/ecosystem-ecology-13228212
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_biology

 

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