Outline of ecology

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The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to ecology:

Ecology – 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. Also called ecological science.

Essence of ecology[edit]

  • Nature – Natural, physical, or material world and its phenomena, or Natural environment – All living and non-living things occurring naturally, generally on Earth
  • Ecosystem – Community of living organisms together with the nonliving components of their environment, or Biome – Community of organisms associated with an environment
    • Community (ecology) – Associated populations of species in a given area, or Biocoenosis – Interacting organisms living together in a habitat
      • Species – Basic unit of taxonomic classification, below genus
        • Population – All the organisms of a given species that live in the specified region
          • Organism – Any individual living physical system or being
  • Biodiversity – Variety and variability of life forms
    • Food web – Natural interconnection of food chains

Other criteria[edit]

Ecology can also be classified on the basis of:

Subdisciplines of ecology, and subdiscipline classification[edit]

Ecology is a broad discipline comprising many subdisciplines. The field of ecology can be subdivided according to several classification schemes:

By methodology used for investigation[edit]

By spatial scale of ecological system under study[edit]

  • Global ecology – The global sum of all ecosystems on Earth –
  • Macroecology – Study of relationships between organisms and their environment at large spatial scales –
  • Microecology – Microbial ecology or ecology of a microhabitat.

By level of organisation or scope[edit]

Arranged from lowest to highest level of organisation:[1]

  • Autecology – the study of individual organisms of a single species in relation to their environment;
  • Synecology – the study of homogenous or heterogenous groups of organisms in relation to their environment;
    • Population ecology – Study of the dynamics of species populations and how these populations interact with the environment – the study of homogenous groups of organisms related as a single species;
    • Community ecology – Associated populations of species in a given area – the study of heterogenous groups of organisms of multiple associated species;
    • Ecosystem ecology – Study of living and non-living components of ecosystems and their interactions.

By biological classification or taxon under study[edit]

  • Human ecology – Study of the relationship between humans and their natural, social, and built environments –
  • Animal ecology – Scientific study of the relationships between living animals and their environment –
  • Insect ecology – The study of how insects interact with the surrounding environment –
  • Microbial ecology – Study of the relationship of microorganisms with their environment –
  • Plant ecology – The study of effect of the environment on the abundance and distribution of plants.

By biome under study[edit]

  • Benthic ecology – The study of the interaction of sea-floor organisms with each other and with the environment –
  • Desert ecology – The study of interactions between both biotic and abiotic components of desert environments –
  • Forest ecology – Study of interactions between the biota and environment in forets –
  • Grassland ecology – Area with vegetation dominated by grasses –
  • Marine ecology – The study of the interactions between organisms and environment in the sea –
  • Aquatic ecology – The study of interactions between organisms and the environment in water –
  • Urban ecology – Study of the relation of living organisms with each other and their surroundings in the context of an urban environment.

By biogeographic realm or climatic area under study[edit]

  • Arctic ecology – Study of the relationships between biotic and abiotic factors in the arctic –
  • Polar ecology – Relationship between plants and animals and a polar environment –
  • Tropical ecology – Study of the relationships between the biotic and abiotic components of the tropics.

By ecological aspects or phenomena under investigation[edit]

  • Behavioral ecology – Study of the evolutionary basis for animal behavior due to ecological pressures –
  • Chemical ecology – Study of chemically-mediated interactiond between living organisms – which deals with the ecological role of biological chemicals used in a wide range of areas including defense against predators and attraction of mates;
  • Disease ecology – Sub-discipline of ecology – which studies host-pathogen interactions, particularly those of infectious diseases, within the context of environmental factors;
  • Ecophysiology – Study of adaptation of an organism's physiology to environmental conditions – which studies the interaction of physiological traits with the abiotic environment;
  • Ecotoxicology – which looks at the ecological role of toxic chemicals (often pollutants, but also naturally occurring compounds);
  • Evolutionary ecology – Interaction of biology and evolution – or ecoevolution which looks at evolutionary changes in the context of the populations and communities in which the organisms exist;
  • Fire ecology – Study of fire in ecosystems – which looks at the role of fire in the environment of plants and animals and its effect on ecological communities;
  • Functional ecology – the study of the roles, or functions, that certain species (or groups thereof) play in an ecosystem;
  • Genetic ecology – Study of genetic material in the environment –
  • Landscape ecology – Science of relationships between ecological processes in the environment and particular ecosystems –
    • Landscape limnology – Spatially explicit study of lakes, streams, and wetlands as they interact with freshwater, terrestrial, and human landscapes to determine the effects of pattern on ecosystem processes across temporal and spatial scales –
  • Molecular ecology – A field of evolutionary biology that applies molecular population genetics, molecular phylogenetics, and genomics to traditional ecological questions –
  • Paleoecology – Study of interactions between organisms and their environments across geologic timescales –
  • Social ecology – Study of relationships between people and their environment –
  • Soil ecology – the ecology of the pedosphere –
  • Spatial ecology – Study of the distribution or space occupied by species –
  • Thermal ecology – the study of the relationship between temperature and organisms.

Ecology-involved interdisciplinary fields[edit]

  • Agroecology – Study of ecological processes in agriculture –
  • Applied ecology – the practice of employing ecological principles and understanding to solve real world problems (includes agroecology and conservation biology);
    • Conservation ecology – Study of threats to biological diversity – which studies how to reduce the risk of species extinction;
    • Restoration ecology – Scientific study of renewing and restoring ecosystems – which attempts to understand the ecological basis needed to restore impaired or damaged ecosystems;
  • Biogeochemistry – Study of chemical cycles of the earth that are either driven by or influence biological activity –
  • Biogeography – Study of the distribution of species and ecosystems in geographic space and through geological time –
  • Ecological design – Design that minimizes environmentally destructive impacts by integrating itself with living processes –
  • Ecological economics – Interdependence of human economies and natural ecosystems –
  • Ecological engineering – Environmental engineering –
  • Ecological anthropology – Study of cultural adaptations to environments –
    • Festive ecology – Study of the relationships between the symbolism and the ecology of the plants, fungi and animals associated with cultural events –
  • Ecological health
  • Ecosophy – Philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium as developed by Arne Næss or Félix Guattari –
  • Environmental psychology – Academic study of the mind's relationship to one's immediate surroundings –
  • Natural history – Study of organisms including plants or animals in their environment –
  • Systems ecology – Holistic approach to the study of ecological systems –

Other disciplines[edit]

Ecology has also inspired (and lent its name to) other non-biological disciplines such as:

Biogeographic regions[edit]

Map of six of the world's eight terrestrial realms
  Oceania and Antarctic realms not shown
  • Biosphere – The global sum of all ecosystems on Earth

Terrestrial realms[edit]

Biogeographic realm – Broadest biogeographic division of Earth's land surface. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) developed a system of eight biogeographic realms (ecozones):


Ecoregion – Ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than a bioregion

The World has over 800 terrestrial ecoregions. See Lists of ecoregions by country.

History of ecology[edit]

History of ecology – Aspect of history covering the study of ecology

General ecology concepts[edit]

  • Ecological succession – Process of change in the species structure of an ecological community over time
  • Carrying capacity – The maximum population size of the species that the environment can support indefinitely
    • Ecological collapse – Situation in which an ecosystem suffers a drastic, possibly permanent, reduction in carrying capacity for all organisms
  • Competitive exclusion principle – Proposition that two species competing for the same limiting resource cannot coexist at constant population values
  • Ecological yield – Harvestable population growth in an ecosystem
  • Autotroph – Any organism that produces complex organic compounds from abiotic substances present in its surroundings
  • Bacteria – Domain of micro-organisms
  • Bioinvader – Organism occurring in a new habitat
  • Biomass – Biological material used as a renewable energy source
  • Biotic material – Any material that originates from living organisms
  • Carbon cycle – Biogeochemical cycle by which carbon is exchanged among the biosphere, pedosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere
  • Climate – Statistics of weather conditions in a given region over long periods
  • Ecological selection – Natural selection without sexual selection
  • Gaia hypothesis – Paradigm that living organisms interact with their surroundings in a self-regulating system
  • Natural resource – Resources that exist without actions of humankind
  • Monoculture – The agricultural practice of producing a single crop at a time
  • Decomposition – The process in which organic substances are broken down into simpler organic matter
  • Inorganic substance – A substance lacking organic constituents
  • Ecological crisis – Change to the environment that destabilizes the continued survival of a population
  • Ecological extinction – Reduction of a species' abundance to the point that, though still present, it stops interacting with other species
  • Ecophagy – The literal consumption of an ecosystem
  • Ecological niche – The fit of a species living under specific environmental conditions.
  • Niche differentiation – The process by which competing species use the environment differently in a way that helps them to coexist.
  • Biological interaction – Any process in which an organism has an effect on another organism
    • Neutralism – A relationship between two species that interact but do not affect each other
    • Amensalism – Asymmetric interaction between species
    • Ecological facilitation – Species interactions that benefit at least one of the participants and cause harm to neither
      • Mutualism – Relationship between organisms of different species in which each individual benefits from the activity of the other
      • Commensalism – Beneficial symbiosis between species
    • Coexistence theory – A framework to understand and explain how ecologically similar species can coexist without competitively excluding each other
    • Competition – Interaction where the fitness of one organism is lowered by the presence of another organism
    • Predation – Biological interaction where a predator kils and eats a prey organism
    • Parasitism – relationship between species where one organism lives on or in another organism, causing it harm

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jax, Kurt; Schwarz, Astrid (2011). "The Fundamental Subdivisions of Ecology". Ecology Revisited: 175–179. doi:10.1007/978-90-481-9744-6_14.

External links[edit]