What is ecology in Biology?

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

How many different types of organisms do you see in this picture?

picture ecology

As you study this picture you get begin to get a clue about what ecology is all about.

Ecology is the study of how organisms interact with one another and with their physical environment.

definition ecology

Ecology isn't just about rainforests or grasslands. Have you seen mold grow on bread,  mushrooms grow on rotting logs, or watched ants search for food. If so, you have seen examples of ecology in action.

One goal of ecology is to understand the distribution and variety of living things in their physical environment. For instance, you will find different living and non-living objects in the desert, a coral reef,  and in your backyard. These differences in nature are driven by interactions among living organisms as well as between organisms and their physical environment.

As an example, let's go back to mold growing on bread. Mold is more likely to appear on bread than, say, a rock. Why might this be the case?

Maybe the mold needs certain nutrients to grow, and these nutrients are found on the bread and not on the rock.

You can classify these interactions as either biotic which means living organisms and abiotic which are non-living organisms.

biotic factors

Ants, dogs, fish, mushrooms, plants, and and a praying mantis are examples of biotic factors.

Clouds, sunshine, water, and diamonds would be examples of abiotic factors.

Let's apply the idea of biotic and abiotic factors to another organism, one that a field ecologist might be likely to study.
For years the population of honey bees has been declining in North America. Bees are very important to their environment because they help pollinate plants.
Understanding the main factors responsible for this decline in bees help ecologists form plans to protect the species.

Ecologists will ask questions?

"Why is the bee population declining?"—ecologists would draw on many areas of biology and related disciplines such as Biochemistry, Genetics, Earth Science, Chemistry, and Physics just to name a few.
Ecology can be studied at five broad levels, organism, population, community, ecosystem, and biosphere.

Let's take a look at each level.

ecology levels

Organism: An organism can range from a single protist to a large animal like an elephant.

Population: A population is a group of organisms of the same species that live in the same area at the same time.

Community: A biological community consists of all the populations of different species that live in a given area.

Ecosystem: An ecosystem consists of all the organisms in an area, the community, and the abiotic factors that influence that community.

Biosphere: The biosphere is planet Earth, viewed as an ecological system.

There are also different types of log-term relationships among living organisms. These relationships are called symbiotic relationships.
Mutalism is when both organisms benefit from the relationship.

Commensalism is when one organism benefits and the other organism is neither helped nor harmed.

Parasitism is when one organism benefits and the other organism is harmed.

So in summary, ecology is the study of how all of these organisms interact with one another and their physical environment. This interaction includes biotic and abiotic factors and different levels of organization.

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