What does the term “ecology” imply? What are the components of ecology? How many Levels of Organisation are there? What are the principles of ecology? Read further to know more.
Ecology is the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment; it seeks to understand the vital connections between plants and animals and the world around them.
Also, Ecology provides information about the benefits of ecosystems and how we can use Earth’s resources in ways that leave the environment healthy for future generations.
The term ‘ecology’ was coined by the German zoologist, Ernst Haeckel, in 1866. Also, ancient Indian texts have references to Ecological principles as follows: The classical texts of the Vedic Period such as the Vedas, the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, and the Aranyakas-Upanishads contain references to ecological concepts
Components of ecology
- Ecology mainly involves the study of biotic and abiotic factors within the environment
- Biotic components include the living factors of an ecosystem.
- Examples include bacteria, animals, birds, fungi, plants, etc.
- Abiotic components include the non-living chemical and physical factors of an ecosystem
- Examples include sunlight, soil, air, moisture minerals, etc.
Categories of Ecology
The following are the various branches of ecology
- Microbial ecology looks at the smallest fundamental levels of life, that is, the cellular level
- Here, the connections are made between microbes and their relationships with each other and their environments
- This is particularly important in the analysis of evolutionary connections and events leading to the existence
- This is the study of the organism at its fundamental levels and can encompass microbial ecology.
- In this type of ecology, the main goal is to understand the organism’s behaviors, adaptations for such behaviors, the reason for those behaviors as explained through the lens of evolution, and the way all these aspects mesh together
- Population ecology focuses on the population, defined as a group of organisms of the same species living in the same area at the same time
- Here, attention is given to things such as population size, its density, the structure of the population, migration patterns, and the interaction between organisms of the same population.
- Community ecology takes a look at the community, defined as all the populations that live in a given area. This includes all the different species populations.
- The focus here is usually on the interactions between the different species and how their numbers and sizes all mesh together and how change in one population changes the dynamic of the whole community
- Ecosystem ecology makes a unique contribution to understanding ecology by adding abiotic (non-living) factors to the items analyzed, alongside the biotic (living) factors involved.
- This interaction, therefore, involves all aspects of the environment and how they interact
Global Ecology: Biosphere
- Global ecology is principally important in understanding all the ecosystems affecting the entire globe.
- This includes all the different biomes, with considerations of aspects such as climate and other environmental geography
Examples of Ecology study
- In recent years, the red panda population has dropped significantly, leading conservation groups to classify it as a vulnerable or endangered species
- Ecologists have found that biotic factors, such as logging of trees and the introduction of diseases from domestic dogs, played a major role in the decline of red panda populations
- Abiotic factors have been less important to date, but changing temperatures could cause further habitat loss in the future
- So, understanding the main ecological factors responsible for the decline in red panda numbers helps ecologists form conservation plans to protect the species
Levels of Organisation
Levels of the organization are natural systems that are frequently described by part-whole relationships, with higher ones being made up of lower levels. The individual, population, community, ecosystem, biome, and biosphere are the levels of organization in ecology. Ecosystems can be researched on a local or large scale. From the smallest to the greatest, the levels of the organization are detailed below:
Organism → Population → Community → Ecosystem → Biome → Biosphere
Individual, Species, Organism:
- Organisms at this level can act or function independently.
- Here, Individuals do not breed with individuals from other groups.
- In ecology, the term organism is a living being that is capable of acting or functioning on its own.
- An organism can respond to stimuli, reproduce, grow, adapt, and stay in a state of equilibrium.
- Any animal, plant, fungus, protist, bacterium, or archaeon on the planet would be considered an organism.
- These organisms can be categorized in a variety of ways. The most basic classification is based on their cells such as unicellular and multicellular organisms.
- Individual species include creatures like dogs, cats, and cows.
- A group of individuals of a given species that live in a specific geographic area at a given time.
- Populations include individuals of the same species but may have different genetic makeup such as hair/eye/skin color and size between themselves and other populations.
- A population is a collection of creatures from the same species living in the same region and interacting with one another.
- A species, on the other hand, is a group of genetically related people that can reproduce to produce children.
- Individuals are not considered members of the same species if they are unable to generate offspring capable of having children.
- For example, a group of dogs or a group of cats are examples of Population.
- It includes all the populations in a specific area at a given time. A community includes populations of organisms of different species.
- These are generally named after the dominant plant species.
- A community is made up of all the populations of various species that dwell in the same area and interact.
- A community is made up of all of an area’s biotic components.
- Organisms in a stand of pine trees, on a coral reef, and in a cave, a valley, a lake, or a stream are examples of communities in an ecology
Types of Community
Communities can be classified into two groups based on their size and degree of relative independence:
- These are huge, well-organized, and self-sufficient organizations. They rely solely on solar energy from the outside and are unaffected by the inputs and outputs of neighboring communities.
- For instance, tropical evergreen forests in the Northeast.
- These are often referred to as societies because they are reliant on adjacent communities.
- They are secondary aggregations within a larger community, and so are not self-contained in terms of energy and nutrient dynamics.
- A lichen mat on a cow dung pad, for instance.
- Ecosystems include more than a community of living organisms (biotic) interacting with the environment (abiotic).
- Everything that lives in an ecosystem is dependent on the other species and elements that are also a part of the ecological community.
- The living organisms (all populations) in a certain area, as well as the non-living features of the environment, make up an ecosystem.
- In an ecology: Nutrient cycles and energy flows bind these biotic and abiotic components together.
- Photosynthesis brings energy into the system, which is absorbed into plant tissue.
- A Biome is a set of ecosystems sharing similar characteristics with their abiotic factors adapted to their environments.
- The biosphere’s terrestrial portion is divided into vast sections known as biomes.
- Biomes are defined by climate, flora, animal life, and general soil type.
- There are no two biomes that are alike.
- The biome boundaries and the abundance of plants and animals found in each one are determined by the climate.
- Temperature and precipitation are the most important climatic elements.
- Tundra, Boreal Forests, Grasslands, Deserts, Temperate Forests, Tropical Rain Forests, Tropical Deciduous Forests and Savannah are all biomes.
- When we consider all the different biomes, each blending into the other, with all humans living in many different geographic areas, we form a huge community of humans, animals and plants, and micro-organisms in their defined habitats. A biosphere is the sum of all the ecosystems established on planet Earth.
- The biosphere refers to the portion of the planet that contains living beings.
- The biosphere encompasses the majority of the Earth’s surface, as well as a portion of the oceans and atmosphere.
- In other words, the biosphere encompasses the sum of all living organisms and their surroundings.
- Thus the atmosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere are all included in the biosphere.
Principles of Ecology
The following are the principles of ecology
Evolution organizes ecological systems into hierarchies:
- Individual organisms combine into populations, populations combine into species, and species combine into higher taxa like genera and phyla.
- Each can be characterized by its abundance and diversity (number of kinds) in a given ecosystem or study plot
The sun is the ultimate source of energy for most ecosystems:
- Life runs on the carbon-rich sugars produced by photosynthesis; every ecosystem’s sugar output depends on how much solar energy and precipitation it receives
Organisms are chemical machines that run on energy:
- The laws of chemistry and physics limit the ways each organism makes a living and provide a basic framework for ecology.
- The supply of chemical elements and the sugars needed to fuel their assembly into organisms limit the abundance and diversity of life
Chemical nutrients cycle repeatedly while energy flows through an ecology:
- The atoms of elements like Carbon, Nitrogen, and Sodium go back and forth from spending time in living to spending time in dead parts of an ecosystem.
- But the photons of solar energy can be used only once before they are lost to the universe
Organisms interact—do things to each other—in ways that influence their abundance:
- Individual organisms can eat one another, compete for shared resources, and help each other survive.
- Each pair of species in an ecosystem can be characterized by the kind and strength of these interactions
- Ecosystems are organized into webs of interactions
- The abundance of a population is influenced by the chains of interactions that connect it to the other species in its ecosystem
- This often leads to complex behavior, and a key challenge in ecology is to determine what patterns of abundance and diversity can be predicted
Human populations have an outsized role in competing with, preying upon, and helping other organisms in an ecology:
- Humans are one of the millions of species embedded in Earth’s ecosystems. The ability of humans to change the planet, abetted by our large population size and technological prowess, increases our ability to shape the biosphere’s future
Ecosystems provide essential services to human populations:
- These include products like timber, fiber,r and food, regulating water and air quality, and cultural benefits like recreation. A key goal of ecology is to use the above principles to preserve ecosystem services.
The different levels of organization assist in classifying the various types of interactions that take place in the environment. It aids scientists in distinguishing the habitats of different animals. Besides, we can make informed policy decisions on how to manage our wildlife resources if we understand these relationships.
Article written by: Aseem Muhammed
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