Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2015).Elements of Ecology(9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
A little more than a year later, on April 22, 1970, as many as 20 million Americans participated in environmental rallies, demonstrations, and other activities as part of the first Earth Day. TheNew York Timescommented on the astonishing rise in environmental awareness, stating that Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nations campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam. Now, more than four decades later, the human population has nearly doubled (3.7 billion in 1970; 7.2 billion as of 2014). Ever-growing demand for basic resources such as food and fuel has created a new array of environmental concerns: resource use and environmental sustainability, the declining biological diversity of our planet, and the potential for human activity to significantly change Earths climate. The environmental movement born in the 1970s continues today, and at its core is the belief in the need to redefine our relationship with nature. To do so requires an understanding of nature, and ecology is the particular field of study that provides that understanding.
1.1 Ecology Is the Study of the Relationship between Organisms and Their Environment
With the growing environmental movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, ecologyuntil then familiar only to a relatively small number of academic and applied biologistswas suddenly thrust into the limelight (see this chapter,Ecological Issues & Applications). Hailed as a framework for understanding the relationship of humans to their environment,ecologybecame a household word that appeared in newspapers, magazines, and booksalthough the term was often misused. Even now, people confuse it with terms such asenvironmentandenvironmentalism.Ecology is neither. Environmentalism is activism with a stated aim of protecting the natural environment, particularly from the negative impacts of human activities. This activism often takes the form of public education programs, advocacy, legislation, and treaties.
So what is ecology? Ecology is a science. According to one accepted definition,is the scientific study of the relationships between organisms and their environment.That definition is satisfactory so long as one considersrelationshipsandenvironmentin their fullest meanings. Environment includes the physical and chemical conditions as well as the biological or living components of an organisms surroundings. Relationships include interactions with the physical world as well as with members of the same and other species.
The termecologycomes from the Greek wordsoikos,meaning the family household, andlogy,meaning the study of. It has the same root word aseconomics,meaning management of the household. In fact, the German zoologist Ernst Haeckel, who originally coined the termecologyin 1866, made explicit reference to this link when he wrote:
By ecology we mean the body of knowledge concerning the economy of naturethe investigation of the total relations of the animal both to its inorganic and to its organic; including above all, its friendly and inimical relations with those animals and plants with which it comes directly or indirectly into contactin a word, ecology is the study of all those complex interrelationships referred to by Darwin as the conditions of the struggle for existence.
Haeckels emphasis on the relation of ecology to the new and revolutionary ideas put forth in Charles DarwinsThe Origin of Species(1859) is important. Darwins theory of natural selection (which Haeckel called the struggle for existence) is a cornerstone of the science of ecology. It is a mechanism allowing the study of ecology to go beyond descriptions of natural history and examine the processes that control the distribution and abundance of organisms.
1.2 Organisms Interact with the Environment in the Context of the Ecosystem
Organisms interact with their environment at many levels. The physical and chemical conditions surrounding an organismsuch as ambient temperature, moisture, concentrations of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and light intensityall influence basic physiological processes crucial to survival and growth. An organism must acquire essential resources from the surrounding environment, and in doing so, must protect itself from becoming food for other organisms. It must recognize friend from foe, differentiating between potential mates and possible predators. All of this effort is an attempt to succeed at the ultimate goal of all living organisms: to pass their genes on to successive generations.
The environment in which each organism carries out this struggle for existence is a placea physical location in time and space. It can be as large and as stable as an ocean or as small and as transient as a puddle on the soil surface after a spring rain. This environment includes both the physical conditions and the array of organisms that coexist within its confines. This entity is what ecologists refer to as the ecosystem.
Organisms interact with the environment in the context of the. Theecopart of the word relates to the environment. The systempart implies that the ecosystem functions as a collection of related parts that function as a unit. The automobile engine is an example of a system: components, such as the ignition and fuel pump, function together within the broader context of the engine. Likewise, the ecosystem consists of interacting components that function as a unit. Broadly, the ecosystem consists of two basic interacting components: the living, or, and the nonliving (physical and chemical), or.
Consider a natural ecosystem, such as a forest (). The physical (abiotic) component of the forest consists of the atmosphere, climate, soil, and water. The biotic component includes the many different organismsplants, animals, and microbesthat inhabit the forest. Relationships are complex in that each organism not only responds to the abiotic environment but also modifies it and, in doing so, becomes part of the broader environment itself. The trees in the canopy of a forest intercept the sunlight and use this energy to fuel the process of photosynthesis. As a result, the trees modify the environment of the plants below them, reducing the sunlight and lowering air temperature. Birds foraging on insects in the litter layer of fallen leaves reduce insect numbers and modify the environment for other organisms that depend on this shared food resource. By reducing the populations of insects they feed on, the birds are also indirectly influencing the interactions among different insect species that inhabit the forest floor. We will explore these complex interactions between the living and the nonliving environment in greater detail in succeeding chapters.
1.3 Ecological Systems Form a Hierarchy
The various kinds of organisms that inhabit our forest make up populations. The termpopulationhas many uses and meanings in other fields of study. In ecology, ais a group of individuals of the same species that occupy a given area. Populations of plants and animals in an ecosystem do not function independently of one another. Some populations compete with other populations for limited resources, such as food, water, or space. In other cases, one population is the food resource for another. Two populations may mutually benefit each other, each doing better in the presence of the other. All populations of different species living and interacting within an ecosystem are referred to collectively as a.
We can now see that the ecosystem, consisting of the biotic community and the abiotic environment, has many levels (). On one level, individual organisms both respond to and influence the abiotic environment. At the next level, individuals of the same species form populations, such as a population of white oak trees or gray squirrels within a forest. Further, individuals of these populations interact among themselves and with individuals of other species to form a community. Herbivores consume plants, predators eat prey, and individuals compete for limited resources. When individuals die, other organisms consume and break down their remains, recycling the nutrients contained in their dead tissues back into the soil.
Organisms interact with the environment in the context of the ecosystem, yet all communities and ecosystems exist in the broader spatial context of thean area of land (or water) composed of a patchwork of communities and ecosystems. At the spatial scale of the landscape, communities and ecosystems are linked through such processes as the dispersal of organisms and the exchange of materials and energy.
Although each ecosystem on the landscape is distinct in that it is composed of a unique combination of physical conditions (such as topography and soils) and associated sets of plant and animal populations (communities), the broad-scale patterns of climate and geology characterizing our planet give rise to regional patterns in the geographic distribution of ecosystems (see). Geographic regions having similar geological and climatic conditions (patterns of temperature, precipitation, and seasonality) support similar types of communities and ecosystems. For example, warm temperatures, high rates of precipitation, and a lack of seasonality characterize th
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