Ecology is the study of the interactions between living creatures, including people, and their physical environment. The subject attempts to understand the crucial links between plants and animals and their surroundings. Ecology also informs us about the advantages of ecosystems and how humans may use Earth’s resources in ways that keep the environment in good condition for future generations. Because the concept of ecology is so broad, it necessitates the integration of numerous fields of study and the applications of ecology in different dimensions.
For example, there are several types of interactions between organisms and their surroundings. Individuals, groups of individuals, members of one species, the sum of several species, or the entire mass of species in an ecosystem are all examples of organisms. And the term environment encompasses not only physical and chemical characteristics but the biological environment, which includes other creatures.
Ecology has overlapping techniques that further subdivide into groupings of species being researched. The primary approaches relating to the applications of ecology include the following.
Applications of Ecology across Various Dimensions
Evolutionary ecology studies the environmental variables that influence species adaption. Studies of species evolution may attempt to address how populations have evolved genetically over multiple generations. Still, they may not attempt to understand what the underlying causes may be. These processes are sought for by evolutionary ecology.
There are several practical applications of ecology across conservation biology, wetland management, natural resource management, urban planning, community health, economics, fundamental and applied research, and human social interaction. Numerous subcategories of ecology investigate the differences and similarities of diverse plants in different climates and environments. Furthermore, physiological ecology, or ecophysiology, investigates the reactions of individual organisms to their surroundings. In contrast, population ecology investigates the similarities and differences of populations and how they replace one another through time.
It is critical to understand that ecology is not the same as the environment, environmentalism, natural history, or environmental science. It is also distinct from, but strongly connected to, evolutionary biology, genetics, and ethology.
The adaptations that allow individuals to exist in specific environments are of particular interest to researchers researching ecology at the organismal level. These adaptations might be morphological (the study of shape or structure), physiological, or behavioural.
A population is a collection of organisms of the same species that live in the exact location simultaneously. Conspecifics are organisms that are all members of the same species or population. A population is partly defined by where it resides; its population area may have natural or artificial limits. For example, rivers, mountains, and deserts are natural borders, whereas manicured grass and constructed highways are artificial boundaries. Population ecology studies the applications of ecology to study the number of persons in a given region and how and why population size fluctuates over time.
The study of a single species is known as population ecology. One immediate question addressed by the topic is why certain species are uncommon while others are numerous. Interactions with other species may provide some answers. For example, a species’ enemies, including predators, diseases organisms, and rivals (i.e., other species), might limit its numbers.
A biological community has many species that exist in a given region and their interactions with one another. Community ecologists are concerned with the mechanisms that underpin these relationships as well as their effects. Biological ecologists also investigate interactions between different species; individuals of other species are heterospecifics. Predation, parasitism, herbivory, competition, and pollination are all examples of heterospecific interactions and applications of ecology. These interactions can influence ecological and evolutionary processes that affect diversity and moderate population numbers.
The study of interactions between several and many species is known as community ecology. The abundance of a species varies both from year to year and across its geographic range. Population ecology investigates what causes fluctuations in abundance. Another critical topic is what controls abundance, because if there were no limitations, species numbers would rise exponentially.
The ecology of communities, or the set of species occurring in a specific location, is considered in community ecology. These applications of ecology concern chiefly subgroups of organisms. A primary topic concerns the size of the “set of species”—that is, what ecological variables influence how many species exist in a given region. The questions typically apply to species at the same trophic level. These may include plants in a community, insects that eat the plants, or birds that feed on the insects in the community. A distinct set of issues in community ecology concerns how many trophic levels exist in a given location and what factors restrict that number.
Ecosystem ecology is a branch of ecology that includes organismal, population, and community ecology. The ecosystem has biotic components in a given region and abiotic components. Air, water, and soil are examples of abiotic components. Ecosystem biologists investigate how nutrients and energy are stored and how they flow between species and the surrounding environment, soil, and water. Ecosystem ecology investigates large-scale ecological concerns, frequently defined in terms of metrics rather than species, such as biomass, energy flow, and nutrient cycle.
Evolutionary ecology also investigates broader themes, such as that plants in dry settings sometimes have no or very few leaves or that certain bird species have helpers at the nest—individuals who rear young other than their own. A crucial question in these applications of ecology is whether a set of adaptations developed once and are preserved by all species descended from a common ancestor with those adaptations. Or the adaptations evolved again due to the same environmental conditions!
The study of how organisms survive in their surroundings is known as physiological ecology. Extreme circumstances, such as extremely cold or hot settings, or aquatic environments with abnormally high salt concentrations, are frequently highlighted. Physiological ecology investigates the unique processes that individuals of a species utilise to operate and the environmental constraints on species.
Behavioural ecology investigates the environmental variables that influence behavioural adaptations. For example, the study looks at how people get food and avoid their foes.
Biogeography is the study of organisms’ geographical distribution, and it poses issues similar to population ecology. Some species have minimal geographical ranges, possibly only a few square kilometres, whilst others have ranges that span an entire continent. Some species have more or less stable geographical ranges, while others fluctuate. Biogeography in a crucial application, of ecology, analyses the range of numerous species. It asks why, for example, animals with narrow geographic ranges live in unique locations that contain many such species rather than spread randomly around the world.
Conservation biology is concerned with determining what causes predispose species to extinction and what people may do to avoid extinction. Species at risk of extinction frequently have the lowest geographic ranges or population numbers, but other ecological variables are also at play.
Study Application Methods of Ecology
Because ecologists deal with complex living systems, the scientific procedures employed by other sciences need modification for applications of ecology. Furthermore, the approaches don’t easily apply in ecology, and the findings obtained are not as exact as those produced in other sciences.
A physicist, for example, can easily quantify the uptake and loss of heat from metals or other inanimate things that have specific constants of conductivity, expansion, surface characteristics, and the like. To estimate the heat exchange between an animal and its surroundings, a physiological ecologist has a plethora of virtually unquantifiable factors, as well as the daunting chore of obtaining and interpreting the voluminous data. Measurements in ecology may never be as exact or as easy to analyse as measurements in physics, chemistry, or certain quantitative areas of biology.
Applications of Ecology
Despite these issues, physical and chemical methods are applied to identify different environmental characteristics, ranging from simple chemical identifications and physical measurements to complex mechanical apparatus. In addition, the advancement of biostatistics, the development of correct experimental design, and improved sampling procedures now allow for a quantitative statistical approach to the study of ecology.
Because of the significant challenges in controlling environmental factors, research incorporating experimental design limits the laboratory and controlled field experiments. These are designed to evaluate the impact of only one or a few variables. Applying statistical techniques and computer models based on field data provides insights into population interactions and ecological functioning. Thus, mathematical programming models are becoming essential in applied ecology, particularly in managing natural resources and ecologically-based agricultural challenges.
Applications of Ecology
Controlled environmental chambers allow experimenters to keep plants and animals under controlled conditions of light, temperature, humidity, and day length, allowing them to study the effects of each variable (or a combination) on the organism. In addition, Biotelemetry and other electronic monitoring devices allow remote tracking to monitor the movements and behaviour of free-roaming creatures. Thus, they can enable fast population sampling.
Radioisotopes are used to trace nutrient routes across ecosystems, determine the timing and extent of energy and nutrient transfer via the ecosystem’s many components, and determine food chains. Laboratory microcosms made out of biotic and non-biotic material from natural ecosystems and kept under circumstances comparable to those found in the field—can be used to determine nutrient cycle rates, ecosystem development, and other functional characteristics of ecosystems. Microcosms allow the ecologist to replicate experiments and manipulate them experimentally.
Studying Ecology in a Bachelor’s Level Program
Like other scientific courses, the student will begin with a comprehensive approach to the subject and then focus on the specialisation as they progress. During your first year, they may expect to learn general ecology and biology and broader topics like geography and chemistry.
After the first year, they will study in brief the applications of ecology across diverse fields and topics, like genetics, cell biology, evolution, molecular biology, epigenetics, environmental physiology, conservation, biodiversity, environmental protection, animal biology and behaviour, botany, plant/animal interactions, experiment and research skills, and data handling.
The qualifications for the Bachelor’s program include passing high school grades in biology, mathematics, and a second subject, like geography or chemistry. However, these requirements may vary from university to university.
Studying Ecology in a Master’s Level Program
Unlike undergraduate programmes, most Master’s programmes in Ecology allow students to specialise further into the applications of ecology. They may become an expert by focusing on specialisation. It is either specified by the curriculum or something they choose through optional courses. Marine Ecology, Forest Ecology, Agroecology, Industrial Ecology, and Conservation Management are primary specializations in the Master’s program .
Whichever Master’s degree students pursue, it will impact the trajectory of their professional career. Therefore, choosing the subject thoughtfully and matching the study programme to their desired outcomes is essential.
Studying Ecology at PhD level Program
To get a PhD, students will need to conduct extensive academic study in a field of their choice. Most PhD programmes demand students to work independently while maintaining essential academic requirements for at least three years. Students should make sure that the area of Ecology they want to specialise in is related to what they learned and researched during their Bachelor’s and Masters degrees.
Difference between Studying Ecology and Biology
Biology is a broad word that encompasses the study of all elements of living creatures, from cellular processes through morphology, physiology, behaviour, and all in between. Ecology studies how an organism interacts with its environment, how the environment affects the organism and the applications of ecology in this sphere. Unlike Ecology, a biology degree programme does not often contain abiotic themes such as geography, climate, or the human effect on biological species and systems.
Why should you study Ecology?
Ecology is an excellent major to pursue if you want to affect the natural world directly. Ecologists are at the forefront of environmental conservation and protection.
- You may help preserve the earth by becoming an ecologist. Ecologists are people who safeguard and conserve nature ecosystems. As an Ecologist, you may make a significant contribution to the preservation of the natural world and in researching about the applications of ecology in natural ecosystems.
- You can travel. Ecology can transport you all over the planet. Most nations are actively attempting to conserve their natural ecosystems, and ecological research occurs in every possible area.
- You can spend time in nature. Working as an ecologist will need you to spend a lot of time outside. Monitoring human activity in your local park or counting trees in the rainforest might be examples of this.
Career options in Ecology
Ecology graduates will get a wide range of jobs and companies. Companies and government agencies are increasingly devoting resources to environmental causes and habitat preservation. Ecology degrees will be in high demand as we transition to a greener way of life. The employment opportunities available with an Ecology degree are as diverse as nature herself.
- Ecologist: As an ecologist, you will research, manage, and conserve natural ecosystems.
- Environmental Protection Manager: You will monitor and safeguard natural habitats, perform forensic investigations when protected habitats are destroyed, study the applications of ecology in nature and collaborate with businesses to ensure they are not negatively impacting the environment.
- Conservation Officer: As a conservation officer, you will monitor and maintain habitats to guarantee their long-term viability.
- Field researcher: You will travel the world, visiting the most remote environments in order to identify and study species in their native habitat.
- Academic: You will conduct your own research while also teaching the next generation of ecologists.
- Marine Ecologist: As a marine ecologist, you will monitor fish stocks as well as develop and manage protected marine zones.
- Environmental Consultant: You will assess the health and riches of ecosystems and advise on how to conserve them. You will work with businesses to ensure that they are in compliance with environmental laws and regulations.
- Environmental Educator: You will teach children about nature and how to protect it.
Ecology improves our planet and is essential for human well-being and success. It adds to our understanding of the interconnectedness of humans and nature, which is critical for food production, the preservation of clean air and water, and the preservation of biodiversity in a changing climate. The applications of ecology across different dimensions of the planet impact greatly on the goal of protecting the ecosystem and making the planet a safer one!