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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Define ecology and the four levels of ecological research
  • Describe examples of the ways in which ecology requires the integration of different scientific disciplines
  • Distinguish between abiotic and biotic components of the environment
  • Recognize the relationship between abiotic and biotic components of the environment

Ecology is the study of the interactions of living organisms with their environment. One core goal of ecology is to understand the distribution and abundance of living things in the physical environment. Attainment of this goal requires the integration of scientific disciplines inside and outside of biology, such as biochemistry, physiology, evolution, biodiversity, molecular biology, geology, and climatology. Some ecological research also applies aspects of chemistry and physics, and it frequently uses mathematical models.

Climate change can alter where organisms live, which can sometimes directly affect human health. Watch the PBS video “Feeling the Effects of Climate Change” in which researchers discover a pathogenic organism living far outside of its normal range.

Levels of ecological study

When a discipline such as biology is studied, it is often helpful to subdivide it into smaller, related areas. For instance, cell biologists interested in cell signaling need to understand the chemistry of the signal molecules (which are usually proteins) as well as the result of cell signaling. Ecologists interested in the factors that influence the survival of an endangered species might use mathematical models to predict how current conservation efforts affect endangered organisms. To produce a sound set of management options, a conservation biologist needs to collect accurate data, including current population size, factors affecting reproduction (like physiology and behavior), habitat requirements (such as plants and soils), and potential human influences on the endangered population and its habitat (which might be derived through studies in sociology and urban ecology). Within the discipline of ecology, researchers work at four specific levels, sometimes discretely and sometimes with overlap: organism, population, community, and ecosystem ( [link] ).

A flow chart of three boxes shows the hierarchy of living organisms. The top box is labeled “Organisms, populations, and communities” and has a photograph of tall trees in a forest. The second box is labeled “ecosystems” and has a photograph of a body of water, behind which is a stand of tall grasses developing into more dense vegetation and trees as distance from the water increases. The third box is labeled “the biosphere” and shows a drawing of planet Earth.
Ecologists study within several biological levels of organization. (credit “organisms”: modification of work by "Crystl"/Flickr; credit “ecosystems”: modification of work by Tom Carlisle, US Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters; credit “biosphere”: NASA)

Organismal ecology

Researchers studying ecology at the organismal level are interested in the adaptations that enable individuals to live in specific habitats. These adaptations can be morphological, physiological, and behavioral. For instance, the Karner blue butterfly ( Lycaeides melissa samuelis ) ( [link] ) is considered a specialist because the females preferentially oviposit (that is, lay eggs) on wild lupine. This preferential adaptation means that the Karner blue butterfly is highly dependent on the presence of wild lupine plants for its continued survival.

Questions & Answers

Simple term of science
Palesa Reply
what does it mean
gopal
it's means what do u know about biology?
Phathu
what is immunisation
Melysa
what is the biology? what do you know about biology
Phathu Reply
biology is the study of living organisms, divided into many specialized fields that cover their morphology, physiology, anatomy, behavior, origin, and distribution.
Julia
The study of all aspects of life. The study of all living organisms (such as animal cells and plant cells) in greater detail (their structure and how they function). It's a very broad science.
juanita
what is prokaryotic
Bhaskar Reply
what is pathogens
Bhaskar
transistion metals....
Wasik Reply
Why study ecology
Amos Reply
What name is given to group 8metals on a periodic table
Amos
what is evolution
Elia Reply
Is the gradual change of something it can be either organisms
Amos
which of the following statements about the moss life cycle is false?
Israel Reply
posterior lobe of pitutary contains what?
MR Reply
What if vincristine and colchicibe disrupt mitosis by binding to tubulin
Rohith Reply
A plant in the understory of a forest displays a segmented stem and slender leaves arranged in a whorl. It is probably....
Israel Reply
How did the development of a vascular system contribute to the increase in size of plants?
Israel
If a flower lacked a megasporangium and microsporangium, what type of gametes would not form?
Israel
Seed plants are.. A. all homosporous B. mostly homosporous with some heterosporous C. mostly heterosporous with some homosporous D. all heterosporous
Israel
Besides the seed, what other major structure diminishes a plant's reliance on water for reproduction?
Israel
what role did the adaptations of seed and pollen play in the development and expansion of seed plants?
Israel
Some cycads are considered endangered species and their trade is severely restricted. Customs officials stop suspected smugglers who claim that the plants in their possession are palm trees, not cycads. How would a botanist distinguish between the two types of plants?
Israel
What are the two structures that allow angiosperms to be the dominant form of plant life in most terrestrial ecosystems?
Israel
how are carbohydrates,proteins and fats formed from triose phosphate
fonyuy Reply
Why does the actin filament only move in one direction? Describe in great detail.
Lashonda Reply
Two events happen when calcium binds to troponin.
Lashonda
which of the following statements about plant division is false?
Israel Reply
😂😂😂 i dont know how i reached here
esther
What are the events that occur in each phase of interphase
Hazey Reply
what is photosynthesis
Victor Reply
The process plants use to convert sunlight into food (energy).
juanita
Some other organisms use
juanita
types of photosynthesis
Victor
ps1 and ps2
smritilekha

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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