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There is a lot of difficult terminology in nature conservation. This can make it uninviting for people without a background in Nature conservation. Therefore, I am starting a series where I explain this difficult terminology. I explain it short and easy so everybody can understand them. Regardless of the fact if you studied nature conservation or not. Today will be part 2 of the ‘explained in 200 characters’ and it will be about ecology. As this is what I am currently studying for my master’s!

If you want to read part 1 which is about the forest biome; click here!

What is ecology?

From the biggest dinosaur to the smallest bacterium, it is already known that the survival of any organism depends on its adaptability to its physical and chemical environment. Ecology is the study of the interaction of living organisms with their physical environment. So, it is a science. In comparison to an environmentalist or a naturalist. Where an environmentalist actively seeks action to preserve the habitat of a given species. And a naturalist observes and documents a given species using, for example, photography or painting.

This interaction of the living organism with its physical environment is studied on 5 different levels. Ranging from small to large.
*Species: An individual living thing
*Population: A group of individuals of a species that live in a particular area
*Community: A set of populations of different species living together in a particular area
*Ecosystem: A functional system consisting of a community, its nonliving environment, and the interactions between them
*Biosphere: The total of living things on Earth and the areas they inhabit

At the start of it

Ecology alone is a large discipline as it covers all organisms on Earth. Back in the beginning, the focus of the first ecologists was only on plants and animals. Where plant ecology studies the distribution and abundance of plants. The effects of environmental factors on the abundance of plants, and the interactions among and between plants and other organisms. Animal ecology concerns the relationships of individuals to their environments. Including physical factors and other organisms, the consequences of these relationships for evolution, population growth, regulation and interactions between.

But later on, due to newly discovered knowledge and the advancement of technology, this division was no longer used. Instead, the study of ecology was divided into two new major subdivisions: autecology and synecology. On one hand, autecology deals with the study of ecology and ecosystems in single species up to the population level. On the other hand, synecology focuses on a larger level as it examines ecology at communities on spatial and temporal levels.

Temporal scale is habitat lifespan relative to the generation time of the organism, and spatial scale is the distance between habitat patches relative to the spreading distance of the organism.

Different branches of ecology

On a large scale

The two categories are still very broad. Therefore, it is further divided into many different specialized branches. All focusing on a wide variety of topics. I will explain to you some of the most common branches. First, we start with the branches that look at a big scale.

Global Ecology is the science of the Earth’s ecosystem. The object of study is the entirety of life (animals, plants, microbes) and life-support systems (air, water, and soil) on the Earth. Also referred to as the global ecosystem and the Earth system. Ecosystem ecology is the combined study of biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems and their interactions within an ecosystem. It examines how ecosystems work and relate to their different components such as chemicals, soil, plants, and animals.

Biotic components are living components, such as plants and animals. While abiotic are the non-living components such as rocks.

Landscape ecology is the integrated study of the relationships between ecological processes in the environment and ecosystems. Which includes a variety of landscape scales, the role of humans and spatial planning. Community ecology Is the study of the organization and functioning of communities. Which are a gathering of interacting populations of the species living within a particular area or habitat.

On a small scale

Population ecology is the study of the processes that affect the distribution, abundance, dynamics, growth and demography of an animal and/or plant population over time. While organismal ecology focuses on the form, structure, functions, and behavioural adaptations that let an organism (individual) survive in a specific habitat. 

Behavioural ecology is the study of behavioural interactions between individuals within populations and communities. Where it looks at how competition and cooperation between and within species affect the change for survival. Conservation ecology deals with the preservation and management of biodiversity and natural resources. And its goal is to find ways to conserve species, habitats, landscapes, and ecosystems as efficiently and as economically as possible.

Specialized branches of ecology

Applied ecology considers the use of science to real-world questions. Also referred to as a scientific field that focuses on the application of concepts, theories, models or methods of fundamental ecology to solve environmental problems.

Taxonomic ecology is the science of naming, describing and classifying organisms and includes all plants, animals and microorganisms of the world. Evolutionary ecology lies at the interface of ecology and evolutionary biology. It approaches the study of ecology in a way that incorporates an understanding of the evolutionary history of species and the interactions between them. Molecular ecology uses molecular genetic data to answer an ecological question related to biogeography, genomics, conservation genetics, and behavioural ecology. Studies mostly use data based on deoxyribonucleic acid sequences (DNA).

Different ecosystems

All of these ecology branches can focus on two different ecosystems: terrestrial and aquatic. A terrestrial ecosystem is a type of ecosystem that occurs only on landforms. There are six primary terrestrial ecosystems: tundra, taiga, temperate deciduous forest, tropical rainforest, grassland, and deserts. An aquatic ecosystem is a body of water, where organisms live that depend on the water for survival, such as fish, plants, and microorganisms. The two main types of aquatic ecosystems are marine ecosystems and freshwater ecosystems.

Terrestrial ecosystems can be separated from aquatic ecosystems by the lower availability of water and therefore the consequent importance of water as a limiting factor.  The terrestrial ecosystems are also set apart by great temperature variations. These great variations do not happen in an aquatic ecosystem that is in a similar climate.

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