This article gives an insight to what ecology is all about, the various levels of biological organisation; it also explains how ecologists study the relationships that exist among species, it talks about the importance of ecological study and the major ecological issues affecting our natural environment.
What is ecology?
Ecology is simply a scientific study of interaction among living organisms with their physical environment, this study cut across different field of 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 this relationship exist between this organisms and it also studies the diversity, population, distribution of some specific organisms and the type of competition that exists between them in their defined ecosystem. For the knowledge of environment to be known and for one to have a clearer understanding of certain interconnections between organism and their physical environment, there must have been an intense scientific research carried out for this to be revealed. However, this research was carried out by a scientist called ocean ecologist through close observation (if they are more than one person, they are called ecologists).
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 behaviours, 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 thesuccessional 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.
Branches of ecology
The two main branches of ecology are autecology and synecology
- Autecology– this branch of ecology deals with the study of an individual animal or plant throughout its life in relation to the abiotic factors. To have complete understanding of autecological studies, one must have the knowledge of life history, growth, reproduction, nutrition, population dynamics, behaviour, and development of that individual specie. For instance, if you are carrying out a study on a prairie dog, jackrabbit or buffalo, you must have the whole knowledge of just one of it; the same principle is applicable when studying a plant.
- Synecology- studies the communities or entire ecosystems; He specializes in describing the interaction and the overall energy and nutrients that flow through the ecosystem and not just concentrating on a broad detail about a specific organism. Synecology may study a whole desert, or marine environment.
In addition, ecology is closely related to other disciplines such as biochemistry, physiology, evolution, behavioural biology, evolutionary biology, molecular biology, geology, chemistry, as well as physics, genetics and ethology.
There is a hierarchy in the levels of organisation connected with ecological studies, theselevels of organisation are called ecological levels of organisation, and it gives an insight on how organisms interact with one another and their physical environment. Ecology is concerned with various levels of biological organisation such as organisms, populations, communities, ecosystems, environments biome and biosphere.
Levels of organization in ecology
- Organism-an organism is any living thing that can function on its own- plant, animal, bacterium, protest, or fungus.Organism ecologist studies adaptations, beneficial features arising by natural selection, which allow organisms to live in a specific habitat. These adaptations can be morphological, physiological, or behavioural. He studies how different organisms respond to stimuli caused by their physical environment.
- Population– this is a group of the same species of either plants or animals (bacteria, fungi, trees, or bears) 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 on the hand studies the size, shape, structure and density of this species and the changes that occur in their environment overtime.
- Community- is defined based on biological term, it is the population of different organisms living together in a given environment or area. Community ecologist then studies the relationships that exist between population living things and how the relationship has affected the community in which they live.
- Ecosystem– an ecosystem is a group of living organisms (plant, animal and other non-living things living together in a certain habitat and functioning as a loose unit, this habitat can be a natural grassland, forest habitat or marine habitat. Ecosystem ecologist closely looks at how nutrients are recycled and how energy is being transferred from one life to another in this same ecosystem.
- Environment– environment makes up both the physical and the chemical surroundings of living organisms interacting with each other, this environment plays a vital role in the life of these organisms, the formation, behavioural characteristic and the population of these organisms depend on the nature of this environment.
- Biome–biomeis a large geographic area consisting of plants and animals and is defined based oncertain characteristics such as climates, locations, and species of living things, adaptation, and features.a biome ecologist is interested in thedistribution of species ondifferent continents of the world; he forcuses on thedominant species found in a each of thecontinent.
- Biosphere– biosphere refers to the part of the earth where living things exist, it consist of the land and water bodies. An ecologist in this field is concerned about the pattern of distribution of species on a global level; he is also interested on the way species interact and the nature of climate that affects the life of specie and how species phenomena that determine their distributions.
Importance of ecology
- The study of ecology opens up our minds to what is going on in our environment; it gives us some vital information of what the environment is all about; this information then provides us with vital ideas on how to conserve, secure and protect nature and how we can make use of the natural resources found in our physical environment.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ecology helps us to relate with other related field of studies such as biology, forestry, botany, zoology, geography and geology among others.
- Deforestation– lack of ecological knowledge has led tocutting down of natural habitats thereby, resulting to the constant destruction of different 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, animals including man. Whenever trees are cut down, it causes wild life to migrate to other places; this action exposes the soil to erosion, floods occurrences, and in turn leaves the rivers and lakes filled up with silt.
- Degradation– poor understanding of ecology has led to degradation of land and environment, which could have been a natural home to species like dinosaurs, mammoth, red panda, black rhinos, sperm whales and other species, however this action has led to the extinction and endangerment of such wild life instead of conserving them.
- Poor resources 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 ,which in turn has led to scarcity as well as exploitation and competition among species.
- Pollution– 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. These chemicals have in many ways damaged our water quality and endangered majority fish species.
- Species extinction– hunting has been a major source of food to human race since when history began, but many often neglect the effects. The major loss and destruction of specific wild games is because of hunting. Overhunting will result to decline in the number of specific species and thereby, creating imbalance in the natural ecosystem.