Ecology (from Greek: οἶκος, "house"; -λογία, "study of") is the scientific study of the relationships that living organisms have with each other and with their natural environment. Topics of interest to ecologists include the composition, distribution, amount (biomass), number, and changing states of organisms within and among ecosystems. Ecosystems are composed of dynamically interacting parts including organisms, the communities they make up, and the non-living components of their environment. Ecosystem processes, such as primary production, pedogenesis, nutrient cycling, and various niche construction activities, regulate the flux of energy and matter through an environment. These processes are sustained by the biodiversity within them. Biodiversity refers to the varieties of species in ecosystems, the genetic variations they contain, and the processes that are functionally enriched by the diversity of ecological interactions.
Ecology is an interdisciplinary field that includes biology and Earth science. The word "ecology" ("Ökologie") was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919). Ancient Greek philosophers such as Hippocrates and Aristotle laid the foundations of ecology in their studies on natural history. Modern ecology transformed into a more rigorous science in the late 19th century. Evolutionary concepts on adaptation and natural selection became cornerstones of modern ecological theory. Ecology is not synonymous with environment, environmentalism, natural history, or environmental science. It is closely related to evolutionary biology, genetics, and ethology. An understanding of how biodiversity affects ecological function is an important focus area in ecological studies. Ecologists seek to explain:
- Life processes and adaptations
- Distribution and abundance of organisms
- The movement of materials and energy through living communities
- The successional development of ecosystems, and
- The abundance and distribution of biodiversity in the context of the environment.
Ecology is a human science as well. There are many practical applications of ecology in conservation biology, wetland management, natural resource management (agroecology, agriculture, forestry, agroforestry, fisheries), city planning (urban ecology), community health, economics, basic and applied science, and human social interaction (human ecology). Ecosystems maintain biophysical feedback mechanisms that modulate metabolic rates and evolutionary dynamics between living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) components of the planet. Ecosystems sustain life-supporting functions and produce natural capital through the regulation of continental climates, global biogeochemical cycles, water filtration, soils, food, fibres, medicines, erosion control, and many other natural features of scientific, historical, economic, or intrinsic value.
Famous quotes containing the word ecology:
“... the fundamental principles of ecology govern our lives wherever we live, and ... we must wake up to this fact or be lost.”
—Karin Sheldon (b. c. 1945)