Ecology

Published: 03.12.2011
Updated: 25.05.2016

Scientific analysis and study of interactions among organisms and their environment

Greek: οἶκος, "house"; -λογία, "study of"

Ecology is the scientific study of the relations that living organisms have with respect to each other and their natural environment. Variables of interest to ecologists include the composition, distribution, amount (biomass), number, and changing states of organisms within and among ecosystems. Ecosystems are hierarchical systems that are organized into a graded series of regularly interacting and semi-independent parts (e.g., species) that aggregate into higher orders of complex integrated wholes (e.g., communities). Ecosystems are sustained by the biodiversity within them. Biodiversity is the full-scale of life and its processes, including genes, species and ecosystems forming lineages that integrate into a complex and regenerative spatial arrangement of types, forms, and interactions. Ecosystems create biophysical feedback mechanisms between living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) components of the planet. These feedback loops regulate and sustain local communities, continental climate systems, and global biogeochemical cycles.

Ecology is a sub-discipline of biology, the study of life. The word "ecology" ("Ökologie") was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919). Ancient philosophers of Greece, including Hippocrates and Aristotle, were among the earliest to record notes and observations on the natural history of plants and animals. Modern ecology branched out of natural history and matured into a more rigorous science in the late 19th century. Charles Darwin's evolutionary treatise including the concept of adaptation, as it was introduced in 1859, is a pivotal cornerstone in modern ecological theory. Ecology is not synonymous with environment, environmentalism, natural history or environmental science. It is closely related to physiology, evolutionary biology, genetics and ethology. An understanding of how biodiversity affects ecological function is an important focus area in ecological studies. Ecologists seek to explain:

  • Life processes and adaptations
  • Distribution and abundance of organisms
  • The movement of materials and energy through living communities
  • The successional development of ecosystems, and
  • The abundance and distribution of biodiversity in context of the environment.

Ecology is a human science as well. There are many practical applications of ecology in conservation biology, wetland management, natural resource management (agriculture, forestry, fisheries), city planning (urban ecology), community health, economics, basic and applied science and human social interaction (human ecology). Ecosystems sustain every life-supporting function on the planet, including climate regulation, water filtration, soil formation (pedogenesis), food, fibers, medicines, erosion control, and many other natural features of scientific, historical or spiritual value.

References

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  1. Aristotle
  2. Biodiversity
  3. Environment
  4. Genes
  5. Genetics
  6. Resource Management
  7. Science
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