28 June 2012

Ecology


Definition: The scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy and matter.

Examples: Ecology is a synthetic science.  Although it arose from the focus of 19th century biology on organisms, as techniques, places studied, and other sciences have changed, so too ecology has expanded its scope.  Ecology now covers a gradient of topics, ranging from integration with geology and Earth sciences on one extreme, to genetics and physiology at the more biological extreme.  In between, ecology studies ecosystems, landscapes, populations, communities, and individuals.  It focuses on the structure, function, and change of the various entities it studies, and it highlights interactions between physical and living components of systems.  

Ecology Figure 1. Ecology is a complex discipline that combines a concern with abiotic, or physical, and biotic, or living components. It overlaps with both physical science and biological science disciplines, and within it, has many specialties that differ by their degree of emphasis on the biological or the physical, and on the nature of their subject matter. 

Why important: Because ecology is fundamentally a synthesizing science, it is well poised and suited to linking with the other disciplines and professions needed to understand, design, and manage urban systems.  The term ecology is sometimes used to describe a particular model of ecological interactions or a network of processes.  The term has also been appropriated by other disciplines, such as political ecology, social ecology, and the like.  When used in the plural, as “ecologies” by certain disciplines, it is likely that different models, scales of observation, or perspectives on a particular socio-ecological system are indicated.  In addition, the term is used metaphorically in common speech to indicate connectedness or equilibrium.  These more poetic uses are quite different from the implications of the term as a description for scientific practice and the resulting knowledge, however.

For more information:
Likens, G.E. 1992. The ecosystem approach: its use and abuse. Ecology Institute, Oldendorf/Luhe, Germany.
Pickett, S.T.A., J. Kolasa, and C.G. Jones. 2007. Ecological understanding: the nature of theory and the theory of nature, 2nd edition. Springer, New York.

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