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Ecology (from Greek: οἶκος, "house", or "environment"; -λογία, "study of") is the branch of biology which studies the interactions among organisms and their environment. Objects of study include interactions of organisms that include biotic and abiotic components of their environment. Topics of interest include the biodiversity, distribution, biomass, and populations of organisms, as well as cooperation and competition within and between species. Ecosystems are dynamically interacting systems of organisms, the communities they make up, and the non-living components of their environment. Ecosystem processes, such as primary production, pedogenesis, nutrient cycling, and niche construction, regulate the flux of energy and matter through an environment. These processes are sustained by organisms with specific life history traits. Biodiversity means the varieties of species, genes, and ecosystems, enhances certain ecosystem services.

Ecology is not synonymous with environmentalism, natural history, or environmental science. It overlaps with the closely related sciences of evolutionary biology, genetics, and ethology. An important focus for ecologists is to improve the understanding of how biodiversity affects ecological function. Ecologists seek to explain:

  • Life processes, interactions, and adaptations
  • The movement of materials and energy through living communities
  • The successional development of ecosystems
  • The abundance and distribution of organisms and biodiversity in the context of the environment.

Ecology has practical applications in conservation biology, wetland management, natural resource management (agroecology, agriculture, forestry, agroforestry, fisheries), city planning (urban ecology), community health, economics, basic and applied science, and human social interaction (human ecology). For example, the Circles of Sustainability approach treats ecology as more than the environment 'out there'. It is not treated as separate from humans. Organisms (including humans) and resources compose ecosystems which, in turn, maintain biophysical feedback mechanisms that moderate processes acting on living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) components of the planet. Ecosystems sustain life-supporting functions and produce natural capital like biomass production (food, fuel, fiber, and medicine), the regulation of climate, global biogeochemical cycles, water filtration, soil formation, erosion control, flood protection, and many other natural features of scientific, historical, economic, or intrinsic value.

The word "ecology" ("Ökologie") was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel. Ecological thought is derivative of established currents in philosophy, particularly from ethics and politics. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Hippocrates and Aristotle laid the foundations of ecology in their studies on natural history. Modern ecology became a much more rigorous science in the late 19th century. Evolutionary concepts relating to adaptation and natural selection became the cornerstones of modern ecological theory.

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Ecological economics is a transdisciplinary field of academic research that aims to address the interdependence and coevolution of human economies and natural ecosystems over time and space. It is distinguished from environmental economics, which is the mainstream economic analysis of the environment, by its treatment of the economy as a subsystem of the ecosystem and its emphasis upon preserving natural capital. One survey of German economists found that ecological and environmental economics are different schools of economic thought, with ecological economists emphasizing "strong" sustainability and rejecting the proposition that natural capital can be substituted by human-made capital.

Ecological economics was founded in the works of Kenneth E. Boulding, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Herman Daly, Robert Costanza, and others. The related field of green economics is, in general, a more politically applied form of the subject.

According to ecological economist Malte Faber, ecological economics is defined by its focus on nature, justice, and time. Issues of intergenerational equity, irreversibility of environmental change, uncertainty of long-term outcomes, and sustainable development guide ecological economic analysis and valuation. Ecological economists have questioned fundamental mainstream economic approaches such as cost–benefit analysis, and the separability of economic values from scientific research, contending that economics is unavoidably normative rather than positive (empirical). Positional analysis, which attempts to incorporate time and justice issues, is proposed as an alternative.

Ecological economics includes the study of the metabolism of society, that is, the study of the flows of energy and materials that enter and exit the economic system. This subfield may also be referred to as biophysical economics, bioeconomics, and has links with the applied science of industrial symbiosis. Ecological economics is based on a conceptual model of the economy connected to, and sustained by, a flow of energy, materials, and ecosystem services. Analysts from a variety of disciplines have conducted research on the economy-environment relationship, with concern for energy and material flows and sustainability, environmental quality, and economic development.

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Credit: Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Topsoil is the upper, outermost layer of soil, usually the top 2 inches (5.1 cm) to 8 inches (20 cm). It has the highest concentration of organic matter and microorganisms and is where most of the Earth's biological soil activity occurs. Pictured: Terraces, conservation tillage, and conservation buffers save soil, control erosion and improve water quality on this Iowa farm. 1999.

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Eugene Pleasants Odum (September 17, 1913 – August 10, 2002) was an American scientist known for his pioneering work on ecosystem ecology. He wrote and published, along with his brother, Howard T. Odum, the first ecology textbook: Fundamentals of Ecology. They continued to collaborate, in research as well as writing, for the rest of their lives.

Life depend on adequate conditions of food, water, and shelter from inclement elements and also that weather, geological, and biological factors (among others) are involved in the web of life that affords this environment. In the 1940s and 1950s, "ecology" was not yet a field of study that had been defined as a separate discipline. Even professional biologists seemed to Odum to be generally under-educated about how the Earth's ecological systems interact with one another. Odum brought forward the importance of ecology as a discipline that should be a fundamental dimension of the training of a biologist.

Odum adopted and developed further the term "ecosystem". Although sometimes said to have been coined by Raymond Lindeman in 1942, the term "ecosystem" first appeared in a 1935 publication by the British ecologist Arthur Tansley, and had in 1930 been coined by Tansley's colleague, Roy Clapham. Before Odum, the ecology of specific organisms and environments had been studied on a more limited scale within individual sub-disciplines of biology. Many scientists doubted that it could be studied on a large scale, or as a discipline in itself. Odum wrote a textbook on ecology with his brother, Howard Thomas Odum, a graduate student at Yale. The Odum brothers' book (first edition, 1953), Fundamentals of Ecology, was the only textbook in the field for about ten years. Among other things, the Odums explored how one natural system can interact with another. Their book has since been revised and expanded.

In 2007 the Institute of Ecology, which Odum founded at the University of Georgia, became the Odum School of Ecology, the first stand-alone academic unit of a research university dedicated to ecology.

Did you know...

Calliphora sp Portrait.jpg
...insects are among the most diverse groups of animals on the planet, include more than a million described species and represent more than half of all known living organisms?

(Pictured left: A Calliphora hilli, a blow fly species in the genus Calliphora.)

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Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value.
— R. Buckminster Fuller

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Ecology is a scientific journal publishing research and synthesis papers in the field of ecology. It was founded in 1920, and is published by the Ecological Society of America.

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