What is Ecology? Types, Levels of Organization, and Importance

This article gives an insight into ecology, the various levels of biological organization, types of ecology, and its importance. It explains how ecologists study the relationships that exist among species and talks about the importance of ecological study and the major ecological issues affecting our natural environment.

Table of Contents

What is ecology?

Picture of ecology- this shows how different organisms are interacting together in a single community
Diagram of organisms interacting within a community

Ecology is the study of interactions among living organisms and their environment. It cuts across different disciplines such as biology, geography, and earth science.

German biologist- Ernst Haeckel first coined the word ecology in 1866; ecology came from a Greek word oikos and logosoikos which means House while logos means the study of.

The interaction among organisms is often influenced by both living components and non- living components of the environment, however, ecology explains why these relationships exist.

It also studies the diversity, population, distribution of some specific organisms and the type of competition that exists between them in their defined ecosystem. Ecology looks at these interaction from a variety of lenses including biotic and abiotic factors.

Intense scientific research and data collection is required to understand the interconnections between organisms and their physical environment. This research is carried out by a scientists known as ecologists.

Branches of ecology

The two main branches of ecology are autecology and synecology


Autecology deals with the study of an individual animal or plant throughout its life in relation to the abiotic factors. This includes the study of life history, growth, reproduction, nutrition, population dynamics, behavior, and development of that individual specie.


 Synecology studies the communities or entire ecosystems. Ecologists in this field specialize in describing the interaction and overall energy and nutrient flow through the ecosystem. A scientist in this field may study a whole desert, or marine environment.

Other Branches of Ecology

In addition, ecology is closely related to other disciplines such as biochemistry, physiology, evolution, behavioral biology, evolutionary biology, molecular biology, geology, chemistry, as well as physics, genetics and ethology.

There is a hierarchy in the levels of organization connected with ecological studies, these levels of organization are called ecological levels of organization. This hierarchy gives insight into how organisms interact with one another and their physical environment.

Ecology is concerned with various levels of biological organization such as organisms, populations, communities, ecosystems, environments biome and biosphere.

Levels of organization in ecology


An organism is any living thing that can function on its own. Examples include plants, animals, bacterium, protest, or fungi.

Organism ecologists study adaptations, beneficial features arising by natural selection, which allow organisms to live in a specific habitat. These adaptations can be morphological, physiological, or behavioral.


A population is a group of the same species of either plants or animals living in the same community. These groups of living things share the same characteristics that allow them to benefit from one another.

A population ecologist studies the size, shape, structure and density of this species and the changes that occur in their environment overtime.


A community in ecology is defined as the population of different organisms living together in a given environment or area. Community ecologists study the relationships that exist between populations and how they affect the community they live in.


An ecosystem is a group of organisms and the relationships between the species and their physical environment. Ecosystem ecologists look at how nutrients are recycled and how energy is being transferred from one life to another in this same ecosystem.


Environment makes up both the physical and the chemical surroundings of living organisms interacting with each other. The formation, behavioral characteristics and the population of these organisms depend on the nature of this environment.


A Biome is a large geographic area consisting of plants and animals and is defined based on characteristics such as climate, location, species, adaptations, and features.

A biome ecologist is interested in the distribution of species on different continents of the world.

Chaparral Biome

The Chaparral biome cuts across small portions of US west coast, South Africa’s Cape Town, Australia’s western tip, the coast of the Mediterranean, and South Americas west coast.

Chaparral biomes covers about 2% of the earth’s surface and are made up of various terrain which includes rocky hills, mountain slopes and flat plains. The Chaparral biome’s climate is similar to the Mediterranean and is characterized by hot and dry summers.

Desert Biome

Thedesert biome is an extremely hot and dry ecosystem. This biome covers about 1/5 of the planet and it is further categorized into four groups; hot, dry, semi-arid or steppe, coastal and cold desert biomes.

Marine Biome

The Marine biome is the largest of all biomes in the world. It covers about 70% of the Earth’s surface and consists of two types of water; fresh water and salt water.

The marine biome also contains the most diverse populations of plants and animals.

Tundra Biome

In Finnish, Tundra means a barren or treeless land; there are fewer species of plants in the tundra than in any other biome. Tundra is located at latitudes 550 to 700 north and covers about 20% of the earth’s surface.

The tundra biome lies to the north of the taiga, includes the extreme northern parts of Alaska, Canada and Russia together with all of Greenland.


Biosphere refers to the land and bodies of water on Earth where living things exist. An ecologist in this field is concerned about the pattern of species distribution on a global level. They also study the way species interact, how climate affects species, and how natural phenomena determine their distributions.

Diagram showing ecological levels of organisation
picture of a food web

Food Web

A food web is a complex feeding relationships which show the different ways in which plant sand animals obtain their food for survival, it is a combination of food chains that is linked to form a network.

Trophic Levels

Trophic levels are positions of an organism in a nutritive series or food chain of an ecosystem. These levels are simply the position, a group of organisms with similar feeding habits occupies in a food chain.

Trophic levels can be broken down into producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, and tertiary consumers.


The first trophic level in the food web consists of producers, also known as autotrophs. These organisms produce or manufacture their own food and these include plants, algae, and cyanobacteria.

Almost all autotrophs get their energy from the sun (light) or from inorganic substances (chemical).

Primary Consumers

A primary consumer is an organism that eats plants as food. These organisms primarily occupy the second trophic level of a food web. Examples include deer, giraffes, and rabbits.

Secondary Consumers

A secondary consumer is an animal that is primarily a carnivore that preys on primary consumers or herbivores. Other examples of secondary consumers are omnivores (omnivores consume both plant and animal matter) that eat both primary consumers and primary producers or autotrophs.

In the food chain, the secondary consumers occupy the third trophic level.

Tertiary Consumer

A tertiary consumer is any organism that gets its nutrition from eating primary and secondary consumers. i.e. they feed on both members of the primary and secondary consumers in a food chain. These organisms can be either carnivores or omnivores.

Tertiary consumers are also referred to as apex predators and are usually at the very top of any ecological food chain.


Biomagnification is an important topic when discussing food webs. This is the progressive concentration of a contaminant in the tissues of organisms at higher trophic levels. It is used to describe the trophic enhancement of toxins within food webs.

What is an Ecosystem in Ecology

An ecosystem is a group of organisms and the relationships between the species and their physical environment. Ecosystems are extremely complex webs of relationships but the following make up some of the key connections and cycles in relation to the study of ecology.

Parts of an Ecosystem

Biogeochemical Cycles in Ecosystems

A biogeochemical cycle is a pathway in ecology by which a chemical substance is turned over or moves through the biosphere.

It is among the natural cycles that move stored matter through an ecosystem’s biotic and abiotic components. The stored matter can be oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, and carbon.

Carbon Cycle

diagram of the carbon cycle
Carbon Cycle

The carbon cycle is the flow of carbon as it is recycled and reused across the biosphere. It is also the lengthy process of carbon sequestration from carbon sinks.

Carbon Cycle Steps
  1. CO2 emissions into the atmosphere
  2. Absorption by producers.
  3. Carbon compounds are transferred in the food chain
  4. The release of carbon into the atmosphere
  5. Human involvement

Water Cycle

The water cycle is the movement of water between the atmosphere and land. In more technical terms, the water cycle is the continuous process of water evaporating and condensing on planet Earth.

The water cycle is important to ecology because it provides and purifies fresh water, and distributes it to all life on earth.

diagram of the nitrogen cycle
Nitrogen Cycle

Nitrogen Cycle

The Nitrogen Cycle is the process by which atmospheric nitrogen is converted to a form that is absorbable by plants. This occurs through free-living and symbiotic bacteria.

This cycle is a necessary component of all ecosystems because it helps feed producers which are the foundation of the food web.


Vegetation plays a vital role in our natural ecosystem and also supports the biosphere in various ways. Vegetation helps to regulate the flow of numerous biogeochemical cycles, most importantly those of water, carbon, and nitrogen.

It also contributes to the local and global energy balances.

The term vegetation refers to plant cover, plant community, or ground full of different plants and it may include both man-made vegetation and natural vegetation.

However, vegetation is a broader term than flora which, refers to species composition hence, vegetation cuts across diversity of plants in an area. Examples range from redwood forests, sphagnum bogs, coastal mangrove stands, desert soil crusts, roadside weed patches, wheat fields, cultivated gardens to lawns.

Vegetation Resources

Vegetation resources provide habitat to wildlife and ecosystem services such as food and fuel, timber, cash crops, pulp, fruits, robes, clothes and many game reserves. Vegetation converts solar energy into biomass and forms the base of all food chains.

Vegetation influences the energy balance at the earths surface and within the atmospheric boundary layer, often mitigating extremes of local climate.

Examples of Ecosystems in Ecology

Ecosystems can be defined by their type, for example coral reefs, or by their geographic region such as the ecological zones of Nigeria.

picture of a coral reef
Coral reef

Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are large underwater ecosystems formed by reef-building corals. It is composed of the calcareous exoskeletons of corals.

The Coral Reef is formed of colonies of coral polyps bound together by limestone (calcium carbonate).


Forests are an assemblage of trees growing close to each other, these trees form a layer of foliage that largely covers the ground and shows stratification with more than one layer.

Forests can be home to a wide variety of plants and animals making them complex ecosystems. The three types found throughout the globe are Tropical Rainforests, Temperate Deciduous forests, and Coniferous Forests.


Biodiversity is the geographical distribution of all species of plants, animals, insects and the microorganisms in aquatic or the terrestrial habitats. It refers to the varieties of plants, animals and micro-organisms, the genes they contain and the ecosystems they form.

Some areas on earth are richer in species than others; areas rich in species diversity are called hotspots of diversity. Biodiversity is not evenly distributed on the earth, rather it varies greatly across the globe as well as within regions.

The different types of biodiversity are listed below:

  1. Genetic diversity
  2. Species diversity
  3. Ecosystem diversity

Importance of ecology

picture of fish
  1. The study of ecology opens up our minds to what is going on in our environment; it gives us vital information of what the environment is all about. This information then provides us with ideas on how to conserve, secure and protect nature and how we can make use of the natural resources found in our physical environment.
  2. Ecology is important in the sense that, it provides us with vital information that helps us to relate with our physical environment without equally causing harm or extinction of some useful species of either plants or animals, and without harming human health in returned.
  3. We need understanding of how our environment works, the different species that live around us and what their habitat requirements are, how they influence each other, what the minimum population sizes are, to ensure their survival.
  4. Ecology helps us to understand the natural world in different ways. A good example of ecology is, a colony of ants moving their food from a particular tree trunk to their original hole. All of them moving on a straight line, with this you might begin to understand the nature of interaction that is going on between a death trunk and the living ants. Another example is one between plants and animals, for instance, some bees pollinating the anther of hibiscus flower and a bird feeding on a palm fruit, along the process, this bird may carry the fruit to a different environment, which after sometimes, the seed germinates into another palm tree. These few examples simply explain how animals are helpful in dispersing seeds and the extent to which living organisms relate with other non-living things. There is no way you can imagine a beautiful world without these constant interactions; I suppose it will be void and quite boring. However, there is just so much to learn from ecology and the physical surroundings and one of the ways to learn this is to pay much attention and simply observe things around you.
  5. Ecology helps us to relate with other related field of studies such as biology, forestry, botany, zoology, geography and geology among others.
  6. The knowledge of ecology helps us to protect, conserve and minimize the rate at which we hunt a species, in other to create a balance in the ecosystem.

Ecological Problems


Lack of ecological knowledge has led to the destruction of natural habitats and species. Deforestation is a process whereby trees are felled for several uses, but without replanting to replace the ones felled.

Deforestation causes a lot of harm to plants and animals. Whenever trees are cut down, it causes wild life to migrate out of the forest. This action exposes the soil to erosion and flood occurrences, and in turn rivers and lakes fill up with silt.


Poor understanding of ecology has led to degradation of land and environment. This is primarily due to the overexpansion of the human population. This action has led to the extinction and endangerment of wild life.

This issue is also severely affected by climate change as resources grow more scarce.

Poor Resource Distribution

Plants and animals need to share limited natural resources such as air, solar energy, minerals, space and environment. Lack of ecological knowledge has led to deprivation and looting of these natural resources.

In turn this leads to scarcity as well as exploitation and competition among species.


Lack of ecological knowledge leads to environmental pollution. Nitrogen and other toxic chemicals from detergents, cars and fertilizers are often washed down into the rivers and large bodies of water resulting in water pollution.

These chemicals have in many ways damaged our water quality and endangered many fish species.

C02 emissions and other toxic gases also lead to air pollution.


Eutrophication is a process whereby there is a concentration increase of nutrients in an aquatic ecosystem leading to an explosive increase in the growth of algae (algal bloom) and other plant life.

Eutrophication is one of the most severe environmental problems for rivers, lakes, coastal waters, and estuaries. A form of water pollution known as nutrient pollution is the primary cause of eutrophication in water bodies.


Bioaccumulation is the gradual accumulation of substances or chemicals in an organism over time. It happens when the organism absorbs chemicals at a faster rate than the substance or chemical is eliminated by catabolism and excretion.

Pollutants like heavy metals enter a food chain and accumulate in biological tissues by aquatic organisms, from sources like food, water, and particles of suspended sediment.

Species Extinction

Hunting has long been a major source of food to the human race, but many often neglect the effects. The major loss and destruction of specific wild game is because of hunting.

Overhunting will result in the decline of specific species and thereby, create an imbalance in the natural ecosystem.

Solutions to Ecological Problems


Bioremediation refers to a type of biotechnology that involves the use of living organisms to remove pollutants, contaminants, and toxins from water, soil, and other environments. Such living organisms used include plants, microbes, bacteria, and fungi.

Bioremediation involves the removal, degradation, immobilization, or detoxification of diverse chemical wastes and physical hazardous materials from the environment through the action of microorganisms.

The primary idea behind this method is degrading and converting contaminants and pollutants to their less toxic forms.


Biomass is renewable organic material from living organisms, such as plants and animals. These organic materials can be used as fuel to produce heat or electricity.

Utilizing biomass, also known as biofuel, is one of the leading projects to help reduce problems in ecology in combination with proper irrigation and mulching techniques.


The study of agronomy in agriculture can be defined as the application of science and technology to produce, modify for improvement, and increase yield in agriculture for food, fuel, fiber, recreation, and land restoration.

As agronomy develops and begins to adopt more environmentally friendly methods of food production and farming, this will lead to healthier ecosystems and conservation.

Who is an ecologist?

Ecologist is a person who studies the association or interaction between organisms with their physical environment.

  • An ecologist is one who studies the behaviors, life processes, and adaptations of different organisms.
  • He seeks to understand how materials and energy are distributed across to living thing in their environments.
  • He also studies the successional development, the type and size of ecosystems in which organisms live.
  • He studies the population, species of living organisms and how they are being distributed across different communities.
  • An ecologist seeks to know why some species may appear few in their natural environment and possible factors that may cause their extinction.
  • An ecologist studies the different ecosystems, and why they support the existence of some specific plants and animals, such as those living in the rainforest, grassland habitats; this include microscopic bacteria growing in the marine ecosystem and microbes living in the soil.


What is ecology very short answer?

Ecology is the study of organisms and how they interact with the environment around them. An ecologist studies the relationship between living things and their habitats.

What is ecology and examples?

Examples of ecology are simply aspects that seek to study how the various types of ecology come about. For instance, the study of humans and their relationship with the environment gives us human ecology.

Who is the father of ecology?

The father of modern ecology is Eugene Odum

What is the difference between ecology and ecosystem?

The difference between ecology and ecosystem is that Ecology is the study of the relationship between living organisms and their environment. An ecosystem is a place, such as a rotting log, a forest, or even a schoolyard, where interactions between living and non-living things occur.

What are the basic elements of ecology?

The basic elements of ecology are the organism, population, community, and ecosystem. Ecosystem processes are those that sustain and regulate the environment.

What is the difference of biology and ecology?

The difference of biology and ecology is that biology is the study of all life or living matter while ecology is the branch of biology dealing with the relationships of organisms with their environment and with each other.

What is the difference between ecology and evolution?

The difference between ecology and evolution is that ecology is the scientific study of interactions between organisms and their environment, and evolutionary biology studies the evolutionary process that produces and modifies the diversity of life on earth.

What is the difference between sustainability and ecology?

The difference between sustainability and ecology is that sustainability is the capacity to endure. In ecology the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time.