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Ecology
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Ecology (from Greek: οἶκος, "house", or "environment"; -λογία, "study of")[A] is the branch of biology which studies the interactions among organisms and their environment. Objects of study include interactions of organisms with each other and with abiotic components of their environment. Topics of interest include the biodiversity, distribution, biomass, and populations of organisms, as well as cooperation and competition within and between species. Ecosystems are dynamically interacting systems of organisms, the communities they make up, and the non-living components of their environment. Ecosystem processes, such as primary production, pedogenesis, nutrient cycling, and niche construction, regulate the flux of energy and matter through an environment. These processes are sustained by organisms with specific life history traits. Biodiversity means the varieties of species, genes, and ecosystems, enhances certain ecosystem services.

Ecology is not synonymous with environmentalism, natural history, or environmental science. It overlaps with the closely related sciences of evolutionary biology, genetics, and ethology. An important focus for ecologists is to improve the understanding of how biodiversity affects ecological function. Ecologists seek to explain:

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

Ecology has practical applications in conservation biology, wetland management, natural resource management (agroecology, agriculture, forestry, agroforestry, fisheries), city planning (urban ecology), community health, economics, basic and applied science, and human social interaction (human ecology). For example, the Circles of Sustainability approach treats ecology as more than the environment 'out there'. It is not treated as separate from humans. Organisms (including humans) and resources compose ecosystems which, in turn, maintain biophysical feedback mechanisms that moderate processes acting on living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) components of the planet. Ecosystems sustain life-supporting functions and produce natural capital like biomass production (food, fuel, fiber, and medicine), the regulation of climate, global biogeochemical cycles, water filtration, soil formation, erosion control, flood protection, and many other natural features of scientific, historical, economic, or intrinsic value.

The word "ecology" ("Ökologie") was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel. Ecological thought is derivative of established currents in philosophy, particularly from ethics and politics. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Hippocrates and Aristotle laid the foundations of ecology in their studies on natural history. Modern ecology became a much more rigorous science in the late 19th century. Evolutionary concepts relating to adaptation and natural selection became the cornerstones of modern ecological theory.

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The rainforest on Fatu-Hiva, Marquesas Islands is an example of an undisturbed natural resource
Pictured left: The rainforest on Fatu-Hiva, Marquesas Islands is an example of an undisturbed natural resource.

Conservation biology is the scientific study of the nature and status of Earth's biodiversity with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystems from excessive rates of extinction. It is an interdisciplinary subject drawing on sciences, ecology, economics, and the practice of natural resource management.

The rapid decline of established biological systems around the world means that conservation biology is often referred to as a "Discipline with a deadline". Conservation biology is tied closely to ecology in researching the dispersal, migration, demographics, effective population size, inbreeding depression, and minimum population viability of rare or endangered species. To better understand the restoration ecology of native plant and animal communities, the conservation biologist closely studies both their polytypic and monotypic habitats that are affected by a wide range of benign and hostile factors. Conservation biology is concerned with phenomena that affect the maintenance, loss, and restoration of biodiversity and the science of sustaining evolutionary processes that engender genetic, population, species, and ecosystem diversity. The concern stems from estimates suggesting that up to 50% of all species on the planet will disappear within the next 50 years, which has contributed to poverty, starvation, and will reset the course of evolution on this planet.

Conservation biologists research and educate on the trends and process of biodiversity loss, species extinctions, and the negative effect these are having on our capabilities to sustain the well-being of human society. Conservation biologists work in the field and office, in government, universities, non-profit organizations and industry. They are funded to research, monitor, and catalog every angle of the earth and its relation to society. The topics are diverse, because this is an interdisciplinary network with professional alliances in the biological as well as social sciences. Those dedicated to the cause and profession advocate for a global response to the current biodiversity crisis based on morals, ethics, and scientific reason. Organizations and citizens are responding to the biodiversity crisis through conservation action plans that direct research, monitoring, and education programs that engage concerns at local through global scales.


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Dionaea muscipula closing trap animation.gif
Credit: Mnolf

A Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) closing after receiving a stimulus. Venus Flytraps are carnivorous plants that catch and digest animal prey—mostly insects and arachnids.

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Ramensky-Leonty 1884-1953.jpg
Leonty Grigoryevich Ramensky June 16 [O.S. June 6] 1884 – January 27, 1953) was a Russian plant ecologist. He was a proponent of the view that biotic communities consist of species behaving individualistically (much like Henry Gleason in the U.S.A.). This was in strong contrast to the prevailing view of communities as super-organisms, held by the powerful V.N.Sukachov and his consorts (much like Frederic Clements in the U.S.A.). Hence, Ramensky was marginalized within the Russian scientific community and was only posthumously rehabilitated by Russian ecologists. Much later, the significance of his ideas was discovered by ecologists in the West.

In his 1929 scientific publication On methods for comparative analysis and ordering of plant lists and other objects determined by multiple factors, Ramensky criticized the use of hierarchical classifications of plant communities and advocated ordination ("Ordnung") of communities (and other complex objects with multiple determining factors, such as soil profile and weather data) instead. He was explicit about assuming unimodal responses of species to underlying gradients in the environment. This was long before Correspondence analysis was first used (1952), the now classic applications of ordination to plant communities by J. Roger Bray and John T. Curtis and David W. Goodall and the theoretical foundations of gradient analysis was developed by Whittaker and others (1970s onwards).


Did you know...

Meat eater ant feeding on honey02.jpg
...that ants exhibit eusociality, a social organization in a hierarchy?

(Pictured left: A meat ant.)

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To secure our environmental legacy for future generations, we must find ways to reconcile humanity more satisfactorily with the natural systems upon which all human life and civilizations depend. We must recognize that the natural systems of which we are part have an intrinsic worth transcending narrow utilitarian values. They must be preserved for their own sake. No philosopher or religious thinker has been more sensitive to this intimate relationship between humanity and nature than St. Francis of Assisi. The powerful contemporary environmental tradition of preservation, of reverence for wilderness and protection for all living things - the ideal that sees, as John Muir said, ‘in God’s wildness... the hope of the world’ - virtually began with St. Francis.
— William K. Reilly

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Checkerspot was a biannual climate change magazine in Canada published by the Canadian Wildlife Federation. A free magazine, its inaugural issue was launched May 2007 and stopped production in 2009 due to the economic downturn. The Canadian Wildlife Federation, one of Canada’s largest non-profit, non-governmental conservation organizations, works to protect Canada’s wild species and spaces. Checkerspot was used to advance activism on and promote discussions about climate change.

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