A Very Brief Introduction to Ecology

Posted by on Jul 6, 2013 in The Biology of Nature | No Comments

The term ecology is synonymous with natural biology, or the study of nature. Ecology is divided into two areas of study: autecology and synecology. Autecology is the study of one specific species or organism and its environment while synecology is the study of a population or community. Both of these branches of study apply to both terrestrial and aquatic habitats.
To create a sort of order of the seemingly chaotic realm of nature, we can categorize living organisms with the biological spectrum, or the spectrum of life. This is a hierarchical structure to classify all levels of biology. First is protoplasm, which is found in all cells in all organisms. Protoplasm consists of  three components: water, inorganic compounds (including ions such as calcium, phosphorus, and nitrogen), and organic compounds (including protein, lipid, carbohydrate, and nucleic acids). Cells are the next unit, which are present in all organisms. Third on the spectrum are tissues, which are formed by groups of cells. For example, epithelial cells are grouped together to form skin tissue.  Organs come next, which are formed by groups of tissues. Then comes the organ system, which is a group of organs (for instance, the endocrine system.
A diagram of the endocrine system of a human male:


An organism, or species, is the combination of all of these organ systems. Each species on Earth has its own distinct organ system, creating a vast array of species. In turn, a group of the same species in a particular area is called the population. Different populations which interact with each other are called communities. Above communities in the spectrum is the ecosystem, which is the largest functional unit in biology. The ecosystem includes the communities and other abiotic factors, including temperature, sunlight, moisture, etc.
An arctic ecosystem:


And the largest unit of the biological spectrum is the biosphere. The biosphere includes all life on Earth.
The organisms which interact in the biosphere can be categorized as followed: producers (plants, trees, etc), consumers (animals which eat the plants) and decomposers (bacteria, fungi. etc.). Producers are known as autotrophs because they create their own energy from the sun. Consumers fall into two categories: microconsumers (crustaceans, insects, etc) and macroconsumers (animals noticeable by the naked eye). Consumers and decomposers are both known as heterotrophs, because they cannot create energy by themselves—they must feed to get their energy. These three categories—producers, consumers, and decomposers—comprise the food chain.
The food chain is the basic unit of organization of plants and animals which interact. Organisms either are feed, or are fed on, by other organisms. The food chain is composed of four trophic levels: producers, herbivores, carnivores, and decomposers. Plants, grass, algae, etc. (the producers) are eaten by plant-eating animals (herbivores) which are then prayed on by other animals (carnovires).
Very important components of an ecosystem are their abiotic portions, or non-living parts of the ecosystem. The more important abiotics are nutrients, and there are two types. There are macronutrients (such as carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and notrigen) and micronutrients (including boron, lead, zinc, copper. etc.). Carbon is the most important of these nutrients—it is the backbone of all life on earth. All of the nutrients together form the genesis for life and are of utmost importance to an ecosystem cycle.

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