What Is Ecology?

Sep 7, 2016 By Amanda Clark
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People who are studying connections between living things or between living things and the environment are called ecologists.

Ecology is all about relationships, or connections! Ecology seeks to answer questions about how living things are linked together like, “What is the connection between sharks and remoras, the cool suckerfish that can be seen clinging to sharks?”

It seeks to answer questions about how living things are linked to certain habitats like, “Why can you only find the pink land iguana on one of the Galapagos Islands?”

Ecology even seeks to answer questions about human connections with the environment like, “Will cutting down enough trees to cover 48 football fields every year change the quality of the air we breathe?” or “How does hunting of one animal’s food source change its behavior?”

Since ecology is such a large study, most ecological questions usually require the use of other scientific fields. For example, an ecologist that wants to know why one plant is surviving in a habitat that other plants can not, has to use knowledge from botany (the study of plants), chemistry (the study of matter), and geography (the study of land and Earth).

Learning About An Animal's Ecosystem

Even though you may not think about it, you ask ecological questions all the time that can give you information about an animal and/or their ecosystem! When you see an animal you have not seen before, what are some of your first questions about it? I usually want to know what habitat and region the animal is from because it helps me draw conclusions about the land and temperature the animal survives in.

I want to know about its prey, or what the animal eats, because it helps me draw conclusions about its available food and other animals that also want the same food, called competitors. Lastly, I want to know about the animal’s predators, or what eats the animal, because it helps me draw conclusions about its defense strategies and survival. We can learn so much about an animal’s connection with their ecosystem by asking these three simple questions! Having this knowledge gives us so much information that we can put together to make new hypotheses, which are possible ideas or explanations to scientific questions that can be tested through experimentation.

Ecologists are constantly seeking to answer questions that help our society. There are ecologists that work on ways to keep our water systems clean and healthy. Healthy, clean water systems help human water and food sources. There are also ecologists that work on ways to protect our plants and farms from insect and disease destruction.

Ecology is even involved in the medical field. There are ecologists that study the connection between bacteria and the human intestines. Ecologists study the world on macroscopic (large scale) and microscopic (small scale) levels to help us see and understand how everything on earth is connected. The best part is that there are still so many unanswered questions for you to study and so many plants and animals for you to find!