Ecology is a common term that we hear every day. Commonly it is synonymous to the study of the natural world around us. However, more scientifically it is just not that; it is a multi-disciplinary branch of biology that studies living organisms in relation to the biosphere they inhabit.
Alternatively known as ecological science, this subject also includes the study of human activity oriented sciences like agriculture, fisheries, forestry, medicine and urban development.
This subject is a relatively recent branch of study. It became popular in the second half of the 20th Century. However, the concepts of nature around us (as ecology is generally equated with) have been subjects of interest for a long time. In fact, keeping that in mind we can say that Aristotle who had a keen interest in animal life was one of the first ecologists we had. His pupil, Theophrastus also went on to explore the co-existence pattern between animals and their environment way back in the 4th century BC.
The study of ecology can be broadly divided under the following patterns:
- Includes sub-divisions like:
- Physiological (or ecophysiology) and Behavioral: That studies how living beings adapt to their environment.
- Population (or autecology) studies: The population aspect of a single species.
- Community (or synecology): Studies the relations between species in an ecological community.
- Ecosystem studies: Explores the exchange of energy and matter through the biotic and abiotic channels.
- Landscape studies: Studies the practices and links between multiple ecosystems or extensive geographic zones.
- Another method is a study based on species such as animal, plant, insect etc.
- Yet another approach is by biome studies, such as the Arctic or polar, tropical, desert etc.
- A very basic method of study is to subdivide the ecology into categories like chemical, genetic, field, statistical, theoretical etc.
However, you must remember that these different methods of the study of ecology are exclusive and often undertaken simultaneously. For instance, an expert in this field can at once be a theoretical plant community ecologist or a polar ecologist exploring animal genetics as well.
Another related term that we often hear nowadays is ecological crisis. This happens when the ecology of a group of living beings evolves in such a way as to pose a threat to its own survival.