Ecology is the study of how living
(biotic) and nonliving (abiotic)
parts of the environment interact with and depend each other. Guess you
could say it's the study of life on earth! In fact, if you break ecology
down "eco" means house and "logos" means to study.
So, essentially we are studying about our house in the biggest sense,
which is Planet Earth!
When scientists study the ecology of certain areas, they call those areas
ecosystems. Together the living (biotic)
and nonliving (abiotic) factors in an area is called an ecosystem. The
biotic, or living, things in an environment would include plants, animals
(this includes people), bacteria, fungi and all other living things. The
abiotic or nonliving parts of the environment would include things like
sunlight, the soil, atmosphere, climate, nutrients and water.
An ecosystem can be
small like a puddle in your backyard, with only a few organisms
interacting or it may be large, like a forest with lots of organisms interacting.
Ecologists study the interactions within ecosystems.
(groups) of specific plants and animals that live together in an ecosystem
make up a community. Each species
occupies a certain role or "niche"
in the community. A species "niche" includes how a plant or
animal uses the living and nonliving resources. No two species in a community
have exactly the same niche.
- The Food Web
One of the major parts of life in an ecosystem is finding energy. All
living things in an ecosystem need energy to survive. The cycle of organisms
eating and being eaten is one way that parts of the environment interact
with each other. The main source of energy for life on Earth comes from
the sun. Plants use light energy from the Sun to make food. Organisms
that use the sun for producing food are called producers.
Algae, grass, trees, and vegetables are all producers.
Organisms that get
energy by eating other organisms are called consumers.
Consumers must eat producers or other consumers for their energy.
This transfer of energy creates a food chain. There are four different
kinds of consumers in an ecosystem:
Most consumers and
decomposers get energy from more than one kind of food. Overlapping food
chains create food webs.
An ecosystem is a complex system with many parts, both living (biotic)
and nonliving (abiotic). All parts of the system are important! If one
part of the system is removed, lots of other parts can be affected. Just
imagine a car - if you didn't fill it with oil, it would still run, but
not for long! An ecosystem, with a part of it missing may continue for
a while but in time would start falling apart. All of the parts of the
ecosystem work together.
Cycles Within Ecosystems
All ecosystems depend on natural cycles. The main cycles in an ecosystem
Wherever you live, you are part of a large ecosystem called a Biome.
Biomes cover huge areas and are characterized by their climate and the
types of animals and plants that are found there.
Ecosystems are constantly changing. Houses, shopping malls, and people
often replace grasslands and forests. Earthquakes, lightning, and floods
can also change ecosystems. Some changes to an ecosystem like a species
becoming extinct may be hard to see, while others like forest fires or
volcanoes are easier to see and understand. The study of ecology helps
us understand these processes.