Ecology could be considered the oldest existing science or profession. Since man began to observe nature either to look for plants to feed on, to hunt or to find a place to settle with the necessary resources. Hence, the etymological origin of this branch of biology is from the Greek oikos which means home and logos which means science.
What is ecology?
The ecology is the science that studies the relationship of living beings with the environment they inhabit. The definition of ecology is simple but the object of its study is very complex.
In particular, it studies how the environment influences its distribution, abundance, biodiversity , behavior, the interactions between different species and the modifications that they can cause in the environment. Its levels of study are at the level of organisms, populations and communities of populations that make up ecosystems and the biosphere in general.
Unlike the other branches of biology with which it is directly related (genetics, evolution, physiology, ethology …), ecology as a central discipline of biology differs from the rest in that its focus is on birth, mortality and migration and how they affect the distribution of species, populations and evolution of communities.
The first researcher to give it this name was Haeckel in 1869. Some eminent ecologists have been Ramón Margalef, the most important Spanish ecologist, and Eugene P. Odum, considered the father of modern ecology.
However, before ecology had its own space, there were naturalists who have contributed great discoveries and observations such as Count de Buffon, Alexander von Humboldt ( of whom a wonderful biography has been written ), Darwin, Lamarck … history is full of great naturalists and ecologists.
Differences between ecology and environmentalism
It is often confused with what is called the environmental movement, which is more of a philosophy of life than a science. This continuous confusion present in the media and in everyday language generates some problems when it comes to scientific communication and for this reason it is very important to be clear about what ecology is, and what ecology studies because it is a science as such and does not involve ideology but is based on the scientific method .
For this reason, there are other sciences that are important for the study of ecology, such as edaphology that helps with soil conditions, meteorology that helps with the distribution of temperature and precipitation, mathematics and statistics to model the behavior of communities and populations.
What does ecology study?
As we said, ecology studies the relationship of living beings with the physical environment they inhabit and the interactions between the various species. Within the environment that a species inhabits, abiotic or physical factors are distinguished such as humidity, temperature , solar lighting ( here you can see all the articles on this subject) and biological factors that are the relationship with other species that inhabit the same environment. (for example, predator-prey relationship).
The exchanges and flows of matter and energy in ecosystems and between species are the object of study in ecology. Other aspects that it studies are the biogeochemical cycles, the trophic chain or the production and productivity of an ecosystem.
Levels of study of ecology
If we put the previous paragraph into the concept according to the levels of study that we talked about at the beginning of the article, according to the levels, ecology studies:
- At the organism level , it studies how individuals are affected by their abiotic and biotic environment, and how they influence it.
- At the population level , ecology deals with the presence or absence of certain species, their abundance or scarcity, and how the number of individuals of a species fluctuates. Populations can be studied by observing individual organisms and then applying their characteristics to populations, or they can be studied by directly observing the characteristics of those populations.
- At the community level , it studies the composition or structure of communities and how they function: how energy, nutrients, and other chemicals move through communities. As at the population level, communities can be studied by observing populations and applying their characteristics to the community level or by observing communities directly.
Likewise, ecology is being revealed as a fundamental science to try to predict the changes that are taking place in ecosystems in response to human alterations and therefore to know what ecology studies and what it is, it is very important to disseminate the importance of this science and its conclusions.