Portal:Ecology

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Ecology
Unique plants in the Ruwenzori Mountains, SW Uganda, Bujuku Valley, at about 12,139 feet (3,700 metre) elevation)
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Ecology, also referred to as ecological science, is the scientific study of the distribution and abundance of living organisms and how the distribution and abundance are affected by interactions between the organisms and their environment. The environment of an organism includes both physical properties, which can be described as the sum of local abiotic factors such as solar insolation, climate and geology, as well as the other organisms that share its habitat. The term Ökologie was coined in 1866 by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel; the word is derived from the Greek οικος (oikos, "household") and λόγος (logos, "study"); therefore "ecology" means the "study of the household (of nature)".

Ecology is also a human science. There are many practical applications of ecology in conservation biology, wetland management, natural resource management (agriculture, forestry, fisheries), city planning (urban ecology), community health, economics, basic and applied science and human social interaction (human ecology)

(Pictured left: Unique plants in the Ruwenzori Mountains, SW Uganda, Bujuku Valley, at about 12,139 feet (3,700 metre) elevation)

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The hierarchy of biological classification's eight major taxonomic ranks, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia. Life is divided into domains, which are subdivided into further groups. Intermediate minor rankings are not shown.
Pictured left: The hierarchy of biological classification's eight major taxonomic ranks, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia. Life is divided into domains, which are subdivided into further groups. Intermediate minor rankings are not shown.

Life (cf. biota) is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes (i. e., living organisms) from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased (death), or else because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate. Biology is the science concerned with the study of life.

Living organisms undergo metabolism, maintain homeostasis, possess a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli, reproduce and, through natural selection, adapt to their environment in successive generations. More complex living organisms can communicate through various means. A diverse array of living organisms (life forms) can be found in the biosphere on Earth, and the properties common to these organisms—plants, animals, fungi, protists, archaea, and bacteria—are a carbon- and water-based cellular form with complex organization and heritable genetic information.

It is still a challenge for scientists and philosophers to define life in unequivocal terms. Defining life is difficult—in part—because life is a process, not a pure substance. Any definition must be sufficiently broad to encompass all life with which we are familiar, and it should be sufficiently general that, with it, scientists would not miss life that may be fundamentally different from life on Earth.

Evidence suggests that life on Earth has existed for about 3.7 billion years, with the oldest traces of life found in fossils dating back 3.4 billion years. All known life forms share fundamental molecular mechanisms, and based on these observations, theories on the origin of life attempt to find a mechanism explaining the formation of a primordial single cell organism from which all life originates. There are many different hypotheses regarding the path that might have been taken from simple organic molecules via pre-cellular life to protocells and metabolism. Many models fall into the "genes-first" category or the "metabolism-first" category, but a recent trend is the emergence of hybrid models that combine both categories.

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Sunflowers.jpg
Credit: Bruce Fritz, USDA Agricultural Research Service

Sunflowers were domesticated by humans, and are native to Central America. The evidence thus far is that it was first domesticated in Mesoamerica|, present day Mexico, by at least 2600 BC. It may have been domesticated a second time in the middle Mississippi Valley, or been introduced there from Mexico at an early date, as maize was. Sunflower leaves can be used as a cattle feed, while the stems contain a fiber which may be used in paper production.

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Ramensky-Leonty 1884-1953.jpg
Leonty Grigoryevich Ramensky June 16 [O.S. June 6] 1884 – January 27, 1953) was a Russian plant ecologist. He was a proponent of the view that biotic communities consist of species behaving individualistically (much like Henry Gleason in the U.S.A.). This was in strong contrast to the prevailing view of communities as super-organisms, held by the powerful V.N.Sukachov and his consorts (much like Frederic Clements in the U.S.A.). Hence, Ramensky was marginalized within the Russian scientific community and was only posthumously rehabilitated by Russian ecologists. Much later, the significance of his ideas was discovered by ecologists in the West.

In his 1929 scientific publication On methods for comparative analysis and ordering of plant lists and other objects determined by multiple factors, Ramensky criticized the use of hierarchical classifications of plant communities and advocated ordination ("Ordnung") of communities (and other complex objects with multiple determining factors, such as soil profile and weather data) instead. He was explicit about assuming unimodal responses of species to underlying gradients in the environment. This was long before Correspondence analysis was first used (1952), the now classic applications of ordination to plant communities by J. Roger Bray and John T. Curtis and David W. Goodall and the theoretical foundations of gradient analysis was developed by Whittaker and others (1970s onwards).

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Did you know...

Giant photovoltaic array.jpg
...in the United States, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems account for 30% (4.65 EJ) of the energy used in commercial buildings and nearly 50% (10.1 EJ) of the energy used in residential buildings? Solar-powered heating, cooling and ventilation technologies can be used to offset a portion of this energy.

(Pictured left: Part of the Nellis Solar Power Plant, a 14 megawatt power plant installed in 2007, in Nevada)

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The role of the market place is to be an instrument of environmental change and policy making. We are all consumers with a great potential for change. Environmental protection begins at home.


—Noel Brown, Former Director of the United Nations Environment Programme
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Ecotropicais a biannual, peer-reviewed international scientific journal covering all aspects of tropical ecology. Papers reflect results of original research (major papers, short communications) or review important fields in tropical ecology.
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