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Intro to Ecology

Recently, words like “environment” and “ecology” have been buzzing as our world has become more preoccupied about the destruction of our planet. But what do these words even mean?

Ecology is the study of how organisms interact with one another and with their physical environments. To study ecology, scientists can look at some specific characteristics of an organism, such as their distribution across space, their abundance, and which organisms they interact with (such as which organisms they rely on for survival and which organisms rely on them for survival). The purpose of studying ecology is to better understand why an organism occupies a particular space in the physical environment, what impacts their population size, an ecosystem over time, and how materials and energy move through that system.

Sounds like a lot, but all of the factors that influence an organism’s abundance and distribution can be grouped into two things: biotic factors and abiotic factors. Biotic factors refer to all of the living components of an environment, such as which animals and bacteria live there. Abiotic factors refer to all of the physical components of an environment, such as the availability of water, what types of soil and rocks there are, etc…

Since ecology is such a broad and complex topic, it can be studied at many different scales and draws on knowledge from other disciplines. Generally, ecology can be studied at one of the five following scales

  • organismal: study of the features of a specific organism that allows them to survive and thrive in a particular environment.

  • population: study of a group of organisms of the same species that live in the same geographic area at the same time.

  • community: study of all of the species that live in the same geographic area at the same time.

  • ecosystem: study of all of the organisms (biotic factors) and physical components (abiotic factors) that influence a community.

  • biosphere: study of the Earth’s ecology at a global level.

And now you know what ecology is!

Written by Gwen Aubrac


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