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Ecology
Unique plants in the Ruwenzori Mountains, SW Uganda, Bujuku Valley, at about 12,139 feet (3,700 metre) elevation)
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Ecology, also referred to as ecological science, is the scientific study of the distribution and abundance of living organisms and how the distribution and abundance are affected by interactions between the organisms and their environment. The environment of an organism includes both physical properties, which can be described as the sum of local abiotic factors such as solar insolation, climate and geology, as well as the other organisms that share its habitat. The term Ökologie was coined in 1866 by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel; the word is derived from the Greek οικος (oikos, "household") and λόγος (logos, "study"); therefore "ecology" means the "study of the household (of nature)".

Ecology is also a human science. 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)

(Pictured left: Unique plants in the Ruwenzori Mountains, SW Uganda, Bujuku Valley, at about 12,139 feet (3,700 metre) elevation)

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Part of the Bug River in Eastern Europe
Pictured left: Part of the Bug River in Eastern Europe

A lotic ecosystem is the ecosystem of a river, stream or spring. Included in the environment are the biotic interactions (amongst plants, animals and micro-organisms) as well as the abiotic interactions (physical and chemical).

Lotic refers to flowing water, from the Latin lotus, past participle of lavere, to wash. Lotic ecosystems can be contrasted with lentic ecosystems, which involve relatively still terrestrial waters such as lakes and ponds. Together, these two fields form the more general study area of freshwater or aquatic ecology.

Lotic waters can be diverse in their form, ranging from a spring that is only a few centimeters wide to a major river that is kilometers in width. Despite these differences, the following unifying characteristics make the ecology of running waters unique from that of other aquatic habitats.

  • Flow is unidirectional.
  • There is a state of continuous physical change.
  • There is a high degree of spatial and temporal heterogeneity at all scales (microhabitats).
  • Variability between lotic systems is quite high.
  • The biota is specialized to live with flow conditions.

Large rivers have comparatively more species than small streams. Many relate this pattern to the greater area and volume of larger systems, as well as an increase in habitat diversity. Some systems, however, show a poor fit between system size and species richness. In these cases, a combination of factors such as historical rates of speciation and extinction, type of substrate, microhabitat availability, water chemistry, temperature, and disturbance such as flooding seem to be important.


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Lightnings sequence 2 animation.gif
Credit: Sebastien D'ARCO

Lightning is an atmospheric electrostatic discharge (spark) accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms, and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms. The study of the atmosphere and atmospheric variables that affect various ecoregions and ecosystems is a significant part of the discipline of Ecology.

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Warming,Eugen-c1900.jpg
Johannes Eugenius Bülow Warming (November 3, 1841 – April 2, 1924), known as Eugen Warming, was a Danish botanist and a main founding figure of the scientific discipline of ecology. Warming wrote the first textbook (1895) on plant ecology, taught the first university course in ecology and gave the concept its meaning and content. Warming wrote a number of textbooks on botany, plant geography and ecology, which were translated to several languages and were immensely influential at their time and later. Most important were Plantesamfund and Haandbog i den systematiske Botanik.

The book Plantesamfund was based on Warming’s lectures on plant geography at the University of Copenhagen. It gives an introduction to all major biomes of the world. Warming’s aim, and his major lasting impact on the development of ecology, was to explain how nature solved similar problems (drought, flooding, cold, salt, herbivory, etc.) in similar way, despite using very different ‘raw material’ (species of different origin) in different regions of the world. This was a remarkably modern view – completely different from the merely descriptive floristic plant geography prevailing during his time.


Did you know...

...systems ecology is an interdisciplinary field of ecology, taking a holistic approach to the study of ecological systems, especially ecosystems? Systems ecology can be seen as an application of general systems theory to ecology. Central to the systems ecology approach is the idea that an ecosystem is a complex system exhibiting emergent properties.
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I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait 'til oil and coal run out before we tackle that.


Thomas Edison, (1847–1931)

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Ibis, subtitled the International Journal of Avian Science, is the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the British Ornithologists' Union. Topics covered include ecology, conservation, behaviour, palaeontology, and taxonomy of birds. It's available for free on the internet for institutions in the developing world through the OARE scheme (Online Access to Research in the Environment).

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