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Selected article 1

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Butanol fuel may be used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine. It is in several ways more similar to gasoline than ethanol is. Butanol has been demonstrated to work in some vehicles designed for use with gasoline without any modification. It can be produced from biomass as well as fossil fuels. Some call this biofuel biobutanol to reflect its origin, although it has the same chemical properties as butanol produced from petroleum. Butanol from biomass is called biobutanol. It can be used in unmodified gasoline engines. Butanol production from biomass and agricultural byproducts could be more efficient (i.e. unit engine motive power delivered per unit solar energy consumed) than ethanol or methanol production. Biobutanol can be made entirely with solar energy, from algae (called Solalgal Fuel) or diatoms.

Biobutanol can be produced by fermentation of biomass by the A.B.E. process. The process uses the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum, also known as the Weizmann organism. It was Chaim Weizmann who first used this bacterium for the production of acetone from starch (with the main use of acetone being the making of Cordite) in 1916. The butanol was a by-product of this fermentation (twice as much butanol was produced). The process also creates a recoverable amount of H2 and a number of other by-products: acetic, lactic and propionic acids, isopropanol and ethanol.

Biobutanol can be made entirely with solar energy, from algae (called Solalgal Fuel) or diatoms. DuPont and BP plan to make biobutanol the first product of their joint effort to develop, produce, and market next-generation biofuels. In Europe the Swiss company Butalco is developing genetically modified yeasts for the production of biobutanol from cellulosic materials.



Selected article 2

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The Indiana Dunes on Lake Michigan, which ecologist Henry Chandler Cowles referred to in his development of his theories of ecological succession.
Pictured left: The Indiana Dunes on Lake Michigan, which ecologist Henry Chandler Cowles referred to in his development of his theories of ecological succession.

In the History of ecology, ecology is generally spoken of as a new science, having only become prominent in the second half of the 20th century. More precisely, there is agreement that ecology emerged as a distinct discipline at the turn of the 20th century, and that it gained public prominence in the 1960s, due to widespread concern for the state of the environment. Nonetheless, ecological thinking at some level has been around for a long time, and the principles of ecology have developed gradually, closely intertwined with the development of other biological disciplines. Thus, one of the first ecologists may have been Aristotle or perhaps his student, Theophrastus, both of whom had interest in many species of animals. Theophrastus described interrelationships between animals and between animals and their environment as early as the 4th century BC.

While Charles Darwin focused exclusively on competition as a selective force, Eugen Warming devised a new discipline that took abiotic factors, that is drought, fire, salt, cold etc., as seriously as biotic factors in the assembly of biotic communities. Biogeography before Warming was largely of descriptive nature – faunistic or floristic. Warming’s aim was, through the study of organism (plant) morphology and anatomy, i.e. adaptation, to explain why a species occurred under a certain set of environmental conditions. Moreover, the goal of the new discipline was to explain why species occupying similar habitats, experiencing similar hazards, would solve problems in similar ways, despite often being of widely different phylogenetic descent. Based on his personal observations in Brazilian cerrado, in Denmark, Norwegian Finnmark and Greenland, Warming gave the first university course in ecological plant geography. Based on his lectures, he wrote the book ‘Plantesamfund’, which was immediate translated to German, Polish and Russian, later to English as ‘Oecology of Plants’. Through its German edition, the book had immense effect on British and North American scientist like Arthur Tansley, Henry Chandler Cowles and Frederic Clements.



Selected article 3

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NASA image titled "The Blue Marble"
Pictured left: NASA image titled "The Blue Marble"

In ecology, the term sustainability describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. For humans, sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of stewardship, the responsible planning and management of resources.

Healthy ecosystems and environments provide vital goods and services to humans and other organisms. There are two major ways of reducing negative human impact and enhancing ecosystem services. One approach is environmental management; this approach is based largely on information gained from earth science, environmental science, and conservation biology. Another approach is management of consumption of resources, which is based largely on information gained from economics.

Human sustainability interfaces with economics through the social and ecological consequences of economic activity. Moving towards sustainability is also a social challenge that entails, among other factors, international and national law, urban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism. Ways of living more sustainably can take many forms from reorganising living conditions (e.g., ecovillages, eco-municipalities and sustainable cities), to reappraising work practices (e.g., using permaculture, green building, sustainable agriculture), or developing new technologies that reduce the consumption of resources.

The word sustainability is derived from the Latin sustinere (tenere, to hold; sus, up). Dictionaries provide more than ten meanings for sustain, the main ones being to “maintain", "support", or "endure”. However, since the 1980s sustainability has been used more in the sense of human sustainability on planet Earth and this has resulted in the most widely quoted definition of sustainability and sustainable development, that of the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations on March 20, 1987: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” At the 2005 World Summit it was noted that this requires the reconciliation of environmental, social and economic demands—the "three pillars" of sustainability.


Selected article 4

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/4

A coral reef, an example of a marine ecosystem
Pictured left: a coral reef, an example of a marine ecosystem.

An ecosystem is a biological environment consisting of all the organisms living in a particular area, as well as all the nonliving (abiotic), physical components of the environment with which the organisms interact, such as air, soil, water and sunlight. Ecosystems are functional units consisting of living things in a given area, non-living chemical and physical factors of their environment, linked together through nutrient cycle and energy flow.

The entire array of organisms inhabiting a particular ecosystem is called a community. The number of species making up such a community may vary from a myriad to a single species such as Desulforudis. In a typical ecosystem, plants and other photosynthetic organisms are the producers that provide the food. Ecosystems can be permanent or temporary. Ecosystems usually form a number of food webs.

Ecosystem services are “fundamental life-support services upon which human civilization depends,”i and can be direct or indirect. Examples of direct ecosystem services are: pollination, wood and erosion prevention. Indirect services could be considered climate moderation, nutrient cycles and detoxifying natural substances. The services and goods an ecosystem provides are often undervalued as many of them are without market value.

Broad examples include:

  • Regulating (climate, floods, nutrient balance, water filtration)
  • Provisioning (food, medicine, fur, minerals)
  • Cultural (science, spiritual, ceremonial, recreation, aesthetic)
  • Supporting (nutrient cycling, photosynthesis, soil formation).

Central to the ecosystem concept is the idea that living organisms interact with every other element in their local environment. Eugene Odum, a founder of ecology, stated: "Any unit that includes all of the organisms (ie: the "community") in a given area interacting with the physical environment so that a flow of energy leads to clearly defined trophic structure, biotic diversity, and material cycles (i.e.: exchange of materials between living and nonliving parts) within the system is an ecosystem.


Selected article 5

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/5

New beech leaves, Grib Forest in the northern part of Denmark
Pictured left: New beech leaves, Grib Forest in the northern part of Denmark

The natural environment encompasses all living and non-living things occurring naturally on Earth or some region thereof. It is an environment that encompasses the interaction of all living species. The natural environment is contrasted with the built environment, which comprises the areas and components that are strongly influenced by humans. A geographical area is regarded as a natural environment. The concept of the natural environment can be distinguished by components:

Earth science generally recognizes 4 spheres, the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere as correspondent to rocks, water, air, and life. Some scientists include, as part of the spheres of the Earth, the cryosphere (corresponding to ice) as a distinct portion of the hydrosphere, as well as the pedosphere (corresponding to soil) as an active and intermixed sphere. Earth science (also known as geoscience, the geosciences or the Earth Sciences), is an all-embracing term for the sciences related to the planet Earth. There are four major disciplines in earth sciences, namely geography, geology, geophysics and geodesy. These major disciplines use physics, chemistry, biology, chronology and mathematics to build a qualitative and quantitative understanding of the principal areas or spheres of the Earth system.

Biomes are terminologically similar to the concept of ecosystems, and are climatically and geographically defined areas of ecologically similar climatic conditions on the Earth, such as communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms, often referred to as ecosystems. Biomes are defined on the basis of factors such as plant structures (such as trees, shrubs, and grasses), leaf types (such as broadleaf and needleleaf), plant spacing (forest, woodland, savanna), and climate. Unlike ecozones, biomes are not defined by genetic, taxonomic, or historical similarities. Biomes are often identified with particular patterns of ecological succession and climax vegetation.


Selected article 6

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/6

View of the crescent moon through the top of the earth's atmosphere. Photographed above 21.5°N, 113.3°E. by the International Space Station crew Expedition 13 over the South China Sea, just south of Macau.
Pictured left: View of the crescent moon through the top of the earth's atmosphere. Photographed above 21.5°N, 113.3°E. by the International Space Station crew Expedition 13 over the South China Sea, just south of Macau.

The atmosphere of the Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention (greenhouse effect), and reducing temperature extremes between day and night (the diurnal temperature variation).

Atmospheric stratification describes the structure of the atmosphere, dividing it into distinct layers, each with specific characteristics such as temperature or composition. The atmosphere has a mass of about 5×1018 kg, three quarters of which is within about 11 km (6.8 mi; 36,000 ft) of the surface. The atmosphere becomes thinner and thinner with increasing altitude, with no definite boundary between the atmosphere and outer space. An altitude of 120 km (75 mi) is where atmospheric effects become noticeable during atmospheric reentry of spacecraft. The Kármán line, at 100 km (62 mi), also is often regarded as the boundary between atmosphere and outer space.

Air is the name given to atmosphere used in breathing and photosynthesis. While air content and atmospheric pressure varies at different layers, air suitable for the survival of terrestrial plants and terrestrial animals is currently only known to be found in Earth's troposphere and artificial atmospheres. Dry air contains roughly (by volume) 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.039% carbon dioxide, and small amounts of other gases, often referred to as trace gases, which include greenhouse gases such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Air also contains a variable amount of water vapor, on average around 1%. Filtered air includes trace amounts of many other chemical compounds. Many natural substances may be present in tiny amounts in an unfiltered air sample, including dust, pollen and spores, sea spray, and volcanic ash. Various industrial pollutants also may be present, such as chlorine (elementary or in compounds), fluorine compounds, elemental mercury, and sulfur compounds such as sulfur dioxide [SO2].

In general, air pressure and density decrease in the atmosphere as height increases. However, temperature has a more complicated profile with altitude. Because the general pattern of this profile is constant and recognizable through means such as balloon soundings, temperature provides a useful metric to distinguish between atmospheric layers. In this way, Earth's atmosphere can be divided into five main layers. From highest to lowest, these layers are the Exosphere, Thermosphere, Mesosphere, Stratosphere and Troposphere.


Selected article 7

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/7

Part of the Bug River in Eastern Europe
Pictured left: Part of the Bug River in Eastern Europe

A lotic ecosystem is the ecosystem of a river, stream or spring. Included in the environment are the biotic interactions (amongst plants, animals and micro-organisms) as well as the abiotic interactions (physical and chemical).

Lotic refers to flowing water, from the Latin lotus, past participle of lavere, to wash. Lotic ecosystems can be contrasted with lentic ecosystems, which involve relatively still terrestrial waters such as lakes and ponds. Together, these two fields form the more general study area of freshwater or aquatic ecology.

Lotic waters can be diverse in their form, ranging from a spring that is only a few centimeters wide to a major river that is kilometers in width. Despite these differences, the following unifying characteristics make the ecology of running waters unique from that of other aquatic habitats.

  • Flow is unidirectional.
  • There is a state of continuous physical change.
  • There is a high degree of spatial and temporal heterogeneity at all scales (microhabitats).
  • Variability between lotic systems is quite high.
  • The biota is specialized to live with flow conditions.

Large rivers have comparatively more species than small streams. Many relate this pattern to the greater area and volume of larger systems, as well as an increase in habitat diversity. Some systems, however, show a poor fit between system size and species richness. In these cases, a combination of factors such as historical rates of speciation and extinction, type of substrate, microhabitat availability, water chemistry, temperature, and disturbance such as flooding seem to be important.


Selected article 8

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/8

An alligator in the Florida Everglades, the largest wetland system in the United States.
Pictured left: An alligator in the Florida Everglades, the largest wetland system in the United States.

A wetland is an area of land whose soil is saturated with moisture either permanently or seasonally. Such areas may also be covered partially or completely by shallow pools of water. Wetlands include swamps, marshes, and bogs, among others. The water found in wetlands can be saltwater, freshwater, or brackish. The world's largest wetland is the Pantanal which straddles Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay in South America. The study of wetlands has recently been termed paludology in some publications.

Wetlands are found on every continent except Antarctica, and are considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems. Plant life found in wetlands includes mangrove, water lilies, cattails, sedges, tamarack, black spruce, cypress, gum, and many others. Animal life includes many different amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects, and mammals. In many locations, such as the United Kingdom, Iraq, South Africa and the United States, wetlands are the subject of conservation efforts and Biodiversity Action Plans.

The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment determined that environmental degradation is more prominent within wetland systems than any other ecosystem on Earth. International conservation efforts and the development of rapid assessment tools are being used in conjunction with each other to inform people about wetland issues.

Wetlands also serve as natural wastewater purification systems—e.g., in Calcutta and Arcata. Many wetland systems possess biofilters, hydrophytes, and organisms that in addition to nutrient up-take abilities have the capacity to remove toxic substances that have come from pesticides, industrial discharges, and mining activities. The up-take occurs through most parts of the plant including the stems, roots, and leaves . Floating plants can absorb and filter heavy metals. Eichhornia crassipes (water hyacinth), Lemna (duckweed) and Azolla (water fern) store iron and copper commonly found in wastewater. Many fast-growing plants rooted in the soils of wetlands such as Typha (cattail) and Phragmites (reed) also aid in the role of heavy metal up-take. Animals such as the oyster can filter more than 200 liters (53 gallons) of water per day while grazing for food, removing nutrients, suspended sediments, and chemical contaminants in the process.


Selected article 9

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/9

Mulch film made of polylactic acid-blend bio-flex
Pictured left: Mulch film made of polylactic acid-blend bio-flex

Bioplastics or organic plastics are a form of plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, pea starch or microbiota, rather than fossil-fuel plastics which are derived from petroleum. Some, but not all, bioplastics are designed to biodegrade. Biodegradable bioplastics are used for disposable items, such as packaging and catering items (crockery, cutlery, pots, bowls, straws). Biodegradable bioplastics are also often used for organic waste bags, where they can be composted together with the food or green waste. Some trays and containers for fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat, bottles for soft drinks and dairy products and blister foils for fruit and vegetables are manufactured from bioplastics.

Constituting about 50 percent of the bioplastics market, thermoplastic starch, such as Plastarch Material, currently represents the most important and widely used bioplastic. Pure starch possesses the characteristic of being able to absorb humidity, and is thus being used for the production of drug capsules in the pharmaceutical sector. Flexibiliser and plasticiser such as sorbitol and glycerine are added so the starch can also be processed thermo-plastically. By varying the amounts of these additives, the characteristic of the material can be tailored to specific needs (also called "thermo-plastical starch"). Simple starch plastic can be made at home shown by this method.

The production and use of bioplastics is generally regarded as a more sustainable activity when compared with plastic production from petroleum (petroplastic), because it relies less on fossil fuel as a carbon source and also introduces fewer, net-new greenhouse emissions if it biodegrades. They significantly reduce hazardous waste caused by oil-derived plastics, which remain solid for hundreds of years, and open a new era in packing technology and industry. However, manufacturing of bioplastic materials is often still reliant upon petroleum as an energy and materials source. This comes in the form of energy required to power farm machinery and irrigate growing crops, to produce fertilisers and pesticides, to transport crops and crop products to processing plants, to process raw materials, and ultimately to produce the bioplastic, although renewable energy can be used to obtain petroleum independence.


Selected article 10

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/10

Part of the built environment – suburban tract housing in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Pictured left: Part of the built environment – suburban tract housing in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Human ecology is the subdiscipline of ecology that focuses on humans. More broadly, it is an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary study of the relationship between humans and their natural, social, and built environments. Human ecology adds the complex human dimension of cultural inheritance that is mediated by the socio-culturally adapted human brain. The term 'human ecology' first appeared in a sociological study in 1921 and at times has been equated with geography. The scientific philosophy of human ecology has a diffuse history with advancements in geography, sociology, psychology, anthropology, zoology, and natural ecology.

Changes to the Earth by human activities have been so great that a new geological epoch named the Anthropocene has been proposed. The human niche or ecological polis of human society, as it was known historically, has created entirely new arrangements of ecosystems as we convert matter into technology. Human ecology has created anthropogenic biomes (called anthromes). The habitats within these anthromes reach out through our road networks to create what has been called technoecosystems containing technosols. Technodiversity exists within these technoecosystems. In direct parallel to the concept of the ecosphere, human civilization has also created a technosphere. The way that the human species engineers or constructs technodiversity into the environment, threads back into the processes of cultural and biological evolution, including the human economy.

The ecosystems of planet Earth are coupled to human environments. Ecosystems regulate the global geophysical cycles of energy, climate, soil nutrients, and water that in turn support and grow natural capital (including the environmental, physiological, cognitive, cultural, and spiritual dimensions of life). Ultimately, every manufactured product in human environments comes from natural systems. Ecosystems are considered common-pool resources because ecosystems do not exclude beneficiaries and they can be depleted or degraded. For example, green space within communities provides sustainable health services that reduces mortality and regulates the spread of vector borne disease. Research shows that people who are more engaged with regular access to natural areas have lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and psychological disorders. These ecological health services are regularly depleted through urban development projects that do not factor in the common-pool value of ecosystems.


Selected article 11

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Old-growth European Beech forest in Biogradska Gora National Park, Montenegro
Pictured left: Old-growth European Beech forest in Biogradska Gora National Park, Montenegro

Forest ecology is the scientific study of the interrelated patterns, processes, flora, fauna and ecosystems in forests. The management of forests is known as forestry, silviculture, and forest management. A forest ecosystem is a natural woodland unit consisting of all plants, animals and micro-organisms (Biotic components) in that area functioning together with all of the non-living physical (abiotic) factors of the environment. Forest ecology is one branch of a biotically-oriented classification of types of ecological study (as opposed to a classification based on organizational level or complexity, for example population or community ecology). Forest ecology studies share characteristics and methodological approaches with other areas of terrestrial plant ecology. However, the presence of trees makes forest ecosystems and their study unique in numerous ways.

Forests are often highly heterogeneous environments compared to other terrestrial plant communities. This heterogeneity in turn can enable great biodiversity of species of both plants and animals. It also affects the design of forest inventory sampling strategies, the results of which are sometimes used in ecological studies. A number of factors within the forest affect biodiversity; primary factors enhancing wildlife abundance and biodiversity are the presence of diverse tree species within the forest and the absence of even aged timber management.

Since trees grow to much larger sizes than other plant life-forms, there is the potential for a wide variety of forest structures (or physiognomies). The infinite number of possible spatial arrangements of trees of varying size and species makes for a highly intricate and diverse micro-environment in which environmental variables such as solar radiation, temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed can vary considerably over large and small distances. In addition, an important proportion of a forest ecosystem's biomass is often underground, where soil structure, water quality and quantity, and levels of various soil nutrients can vary greatly.

Forests accumulate large amounts of standing biomass, and many are capable of accumulating it at high rates, i.e. they are highly productive. Such high levels of biomass and tall vertical structures represent large stores of potential energy that can be converted to kinetic energy under the right circumstances. Two such conversions of great importance are fires and treefalls, both of which radically alter the biota and the physical environment where they occur. Also, in forests of high productivity, the rapid growth of the trees themselves induces biotic and environmental changes, although at a slower rate and lower intensity than relatively instantaneous disturbances such as fires.


Selected article 12

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/12

Old-growth forest in the Opal Creek Wilderness, a National Wilderness Preservation System located in the Willamette National Forest in the U.S. state of Oregon, on the border of the Mount Hood National Forest. It has the largest uncut watershed in Oregon.
Pictured left: Old-growth forest in the Opal Creek Wilderness, a wilderness area located in the Willamette National Forest in the U.S. state of Oregon, on the border of the Mount Hood National Forest. It has the largest uncut watershed in Oregon.

An old-growth forest (also termed primary forest, virgin forest, primeval forest, late seral forest, or in Britain, ancient woodland) is a forest that has attained great age (and associated structural features), and thereby exhibits unique ecological features. Old-growth forests tend to have more large trees and standing dead trees, multi-layered canopies with gaps resulting from the deaths of individual trees, and coarse woody debris on the forest floor.

Old-growth forests are often biologically diverse, and home to rare species, threatened species, and endangered species of plants and animals, such as the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet and fisher, making them ecologically significant. Levels of biodiversity may be higher or lower in old-growth forests compared to that in second-growth forests, depending on specific circumstances, environmental variables and geographic variables. Logging in old-growth forests is a contentious issue in many parts of the world. Excessive logging can reduce biodiversity, affecting not only the old-growth forest itself, but also indigenous species that rely upon old-growth forest habitat. Fallen timber, or coarse woody debris, contributes carbon-rich organic matter directly to the soil, thus providing a substrate for mosses, fungi and for seedlings, and in creating microhabitats by creating relief on the forest floor. In some ecosystems, such as the temperate rain forest of the North American Pacific coast, fallen timber may become nurse logs, providing a substrate for seedling trees.

Plant species that are native to old-growth forests may someday prove to be invaluable towards curing various human ailments, as has been realized in numerous plants in tropical rainforests.

Old-growth forests were often given harvesting priority because they have the most commercially valuable timber, they are considered to be at greater risk of deterioration through root rot or insect infestation, and they occupy land that could be used for more productive second-growth stands.


Selected article 13

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/13

The rainforest on Fatu-Hiva, Marquesas Islands is an example of an undisturbed natural resource
Pictured left: The rainforest on Fatu-Hiva, Marquesas Islands is an example of an undisturbed natural resource.

Conservation biology is the scientific study of the nature and status of Earth's biodiversity with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystems from excessive rates of extinction. It is an interdisciplinary subject drawing on sciences, ecology, economics, and the practice of natural resource management.

The rapid decline of established biological systems around the world means that conservation biology is often referred to as a "Discipline with a deadline". Conservation biology is tied closely to ecology in researching the dispersal, migration, demographics, effective population size, inbreeding depression, and minimum population viability of rare or endangered species. To better understand the restoration ecology of native plant and animal communities, the conservation biologist closely studies both their polytypic and monotypic habitats that are affected by a wide range of benign and hostile factors. Conservation biology is concerned with phenomena that affect the maintenance, loss, and restoration of biodiversity and the science of sustaining evolutionary processes that engender genetic, population, species, and ecosystem diversity. The concern stems from estimates suggesting that up to 50% of all species on the planet will disappear within the next 50 years, which has contributed to poverty, starvation, and will reset the course of evolution on this planet.

Conservation biologists research and educate on the trends and process of biodiversity loss, species extinctions, and the negative effect these are having on our capabilities to sustain the well-being of human society. Conservation biologists work in the field and office, in government, universities, non-profit organizations and industry. They are funded to research, monitor, and catalog every angle of the earth and its relation to society. The topics are diverse, because this is an interdisciplinary network with professional alliances in the biological as well as social sciences. Those dedicated to the cause and profession advocate for a global response to the current biodiversity crisis based on morals, ethics, and scientific reason. Organizations and citizens are responding to the biodiversity crisis through conservation action plans that direct research, monitoring, and education programs that engage concerns at local through global scales.


Selected article 14

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/14

An estuary mouth and coastal waters, part of an aquatic ecosystem
Pictured left: An estuary mouth and coastal waters, part of an aquatic ecosystem

An aquatic ecosystem is an ecosystem located in a body of water. Communities of organisms that are dependent on each other and on their environment live in aquatic ecosystems. The two main types of aquatic ecosystems are marine ecosystems and freshwater ecosystems.

Marine ecosystems cover approximately 71% of the Earth's surface and contain approximately 97% of the planet's water. They generate 32% of the world's net primary production. They are distinguished from freshwater ecosystems by the presence of dissolved compounds, especially salts, in the water. Approximately 85% of the dissolved materials in seawater are sodium and chlorine. Seawater has an average salinity of 35 parts per thousand (ppt) of water. Actual salinity varies among different marine ecosystems. Classes of organisms found in marine ecosystems include brown algae, dinoflagellates, corals, cephalopods, echinoderms, and sharks. Fish caught in marine ecosystems are the biggest source of commercial foods obtained from wild populations.

Freshwater ecosystems cover 0.80% of the Earth's surface and inhabit 0.009% of its total water. They generate nearly 3% of its net primary production. Freshwater ecosystems contain 41% of the world's known fish species. There are three basic types of freshwater ecosystems:

Wetlands are dominated by vascular plants that have adapted to saturated soil. Wetlands are the most productive natural ecosystems because of the proximity of water and soil. Due to their productivity, wetlands are often converted into dry land with dykes and drains and used for agricultural purposes. Their closeness to lakes and rivers means that they are often developed for human settlement.


Selected article 15

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/15

the Gambia River in Senegal's Niokolo-Koba National Park. Rainforests are an example of biodiversity on the planet, and typically possess a great deal of species diversity.
Pictured left: the Gambia River in Senegal's Niokolo-Koba National Park. Rainforests are an example of biodiversity on the planet, and typically possess a great deal of species diversity.

Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. Biodiversity is a measure of the health of ecosystems. Biodiversity is in part a function of climate. In terrestrial habitats, tropical regions are typically rich whereas polar regions support fewer species.

Rapid environmental changes typically cause mass extinctions. One estimate is that less than 1% of the species that have existed on Earth are extant.

Since life began on Earth, five major mass extinctions and several minor events have led to large and sudden drops in biodiversity. The Phanerozoic eon (the last 540 million years) marked a rapid growth in biodiversity via the Cambrian explosion—a period during which nearly every phylum of multicellular organisms first appeared. The next 400 million years included repeated, massive biodiversity losses classified as mass extinction events. In the Carboniferous, rainforest collapse led to a great loss of plant and animal life. The Permian–Triassic extinction event, 251 million years ago, was the worst; vertebrate recovery took 30 million years. The most recent, the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, occurred 65 million years ago, and has often attracted more attention than others because it resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The period since the emergence of humans has displayed an ongoing biodiversity reduction and an accompanying loss of genetic diversity. Named the Holocene extinction, the reduction is caused primarily by human impacts, particularly habitat destruction. Conversely, biodiversity impacts human health in a number of ways, both positively and negatively.

The United Nations designated 2011-2020 as the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity.


Selected article 16

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/16

A bus fueled by biodiesel
Pictured left: A bus fueled by biodiesel

Biofuel is a type of fuel whose energy is derived from biological carbon fixation. Biofuels include fuels derived from biomass conversion, as well as solid biomass, liquid fuels and various biogases. Although fossil fuels have their origin in ancient carbon fixation, they are not considered biofuels by the generally accepted definition because they contain carbon that has been "out" of the carbon cycle for a very long time. Biofuels are gaining increased public and scientific attention, driven by factors such as oil price spikes, the need for increased energy security, concern over greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, and government subsidies. Some biofuels include biodiesel and bioethanol.

In 2010 worldwide biofuel production reached 105 billion liters (28 billion gallons US), up 17% from 2009, and biofuels provided 2.7% of the world's fuels for road transport, a contribution largely made up of ethanol and biodiesel. Global ethanol fuel production reached 86 billion liters (23 billion gallons US) in 2010, with the United States and Brazil as the world's top producers, accounting together for 90% of global production. The world's largest biodiesel producer is the European Union, accountig for 53% of all biodiesel production in 2010. As of 2011, mandates for blending biofuels exist in 31 countries at the national level and in 29 states/provinces. According to the International Energy Agency, biofuels have the potential to meet more than a quarter of world demand for transportation fuels by 2050.

Numerous studies have shown that biomass fuels have significantly less impact on the environment than fossil based fuels. Of note is the U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory, Operated by Midwest Research Institute Biomass Power and Conventional Fossil Systems with and without CO2 Sequestration – Comparing the Energy Balance, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Economics Study. Power generation emits significant amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs), mainly carbon dioxide (CO2). Sequestering CO2 from the power plant flue gas can significantly reduce the GHGs from the power plant itself, but this is not the total picture. CO2 capture and sequestration consumes additional energy, thus lowering the plant's fuel-to-electricity efficiency. To compensate for this, more fossil fuel must be procured and consumed to make up for lost capacity.


Selected article 17

Portal:Ecology/Selected article/17

Water lilies, aquatic plants in the family Nymphaeaceae. Picture taken in Verona, Italy
Pictured left: Water lilies, aquatic plants in the family Nymphaeaceae. Picture taken in Verona, Italy

Botany, plant science(s), or plant biology is a branch of biology that involves the scientific study of plant life. Botany covers a wide range of scientific disciplines including structure, growth, reproduction, metabolism, development, diseases, chemical properties, and evolutionary relationships among taxonomic groups. Botany began with early human efforts to identify edible, medicinal and poisonous plants, making it one of the oldest sciences. Today botanists study over 550,000 species of living organisms.

The term "botany" comes from Greek βοτάνη, meaning "pasture, grass, fodder", perhaps via the idea of a livestock keeper needing to know which plants are safe for livestock to eat.

As with other life forms in biology, plant life can be studied from different perspectives, from the molecular, genetic and biochemical level through organelles, cells, tissues, organs, individuals, plant populations, and communities of plants. At each of these levels a botanist might be concerned with the classification (taxonomy), structure (anatomy and morphology), or function (physiology) of plant life. The study of plants is vital because they are a fundamental part of life on Earth, which generates the oxygen, food, fibres, fuel and medicine that allow humans and other life forms to exist. Through photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that in large amounts can affect global climate. Additionally, they prevent soil erosion and are influential in the water cycle.

Plants can also help us understand changes in on our environment in many ways:

In many different ways, plants can act a little like the 'miners' canary', an early warning system alerting us to important changes in our environment. In addition to these practical and scientific reasons, plants are extremely valuable as recreation for millions of people who enjoy gardening, horticultural and culinary uses of plants every day.


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Animated global map of monthly long term mean surface air temperature (Mollweide projection)
Pictured left: Animated global map of monthly long term mean surface air temperature (Mollweide projection)

Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elemental measurements in a given region over long periods. Climate can be contrasted to weather, which is the present condition of these elements and their variations over shorter periods. A region's climate is generated by the climate system, which has five components: Atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, land surface, and biosphere.

The climate of a location is affected by its latitude, terrain, and altitude, as well as nearby water bodies and their currents. Climates can be classified according to the average and the typical ranges of different variables, most commonly temperature and precipitation. The most commonly used classification scheme was originally developed by Wladimir Köppen. The Thornthwaite system, in use since 1948, incorporates evapotranspiration along with temperature and precipitation information and is used in studying animal species diversity and potential effects of climate changes. The Bergeron and Spatial Synoptic Classification systems focus on the origin of air masses that define the climate of a region.

There are several ways to classify climates into similar regimes. Modern climate classification methods can be broadly divided into genetic methods, which focus on the causes of climate, and empiric methods, which focus on the effects of climate. Examples of genetic classification include methods based on the relative frequency of different air mass types or locations within synoptic weather disturbances. Examples of empiric classifications include climate zones defined by plant hardiness, evapotranspiration, or more generally the Köppen climate classification which was originally designed to identify the climates associated with certain biomes. A common shortcoming of these classification schemes is that they produce distinct boundaries between the zones they define, rather than the gradual transition of climate properties more common in nature.


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A Map of the Earth's biomes. Open link to view detailed information.
Pictured left: A Map of the Earth's biomes. Open link to view detailed information.

Biomes are climatically and geographically defined as similar climatic conditions on the Earth, such as communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms, and are often referred to as ecosystems. Some parts of the earth have more or less the same kind of abiotic and biotic factors spread over a large area creating a typical ecosystem over that area. Such major ecosystems are termed as biomes. Biomes are defined by factors such as plant structures (such as trees, shrubs, and grasses), leaf types (such as broadleaf and needleleaf), plant spacing (forest, woodland, savanna), and climate. Unlike ecozones, biomes are not defined by genetic, taxonomic, or historical similarities. Biomes are often identified with particular patterns of ecological succession and climax vegetation (quasi-equilibrium state of the local ecosystem). An ecosystem has many biotopes and a biome is a major habitat type. A major habitat type, however, is a compromise, as it has an intrinsic inhomogeneity.

The biodiversity characteristic of each extinction, especially the diversity of fauna and subdominant plant forms, is a function of abiotic factors and the biomass productivity of the dominant vegetation. In terrestrial biomes, species diversity tends to correlate positively with net primary productivity, moisture availability, and temperature.

Biomes are classification schemes which define biomes using climatic parameters. Particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a significant push to understand the relationships between these climatic parameters and properties of ecosystem energetics because such discoveries would enable the prediction of rates of energy capture and transfer among components within ecosystems. Such a study was conducted by Sims et al. (1978) on North American grasslands. The study found a positive logistic correlation between evapotranspiration and above-ground net primary production. More general results from the study were that precipitation and water use lead to above-ground primary production, solar radiation and temperature lead to belowground primary production (roots), and temperature and water lead to cool and warm season growth habit.


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A composite image of oceanic chlorophyll concentrations and differences in terrestrial vegetation
Pictured left: A composite image of oceanic chlorophyll concentrations and differences in terrestrial vegetation

The biosphere is the global sum of all ecosystems. It can also be called the zone of life on Earth, a closed (apart from solar and cosmic radiation) and self-regulating system. From the broadest biophysiological point of view, the biosphere is the global ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships, including their interaction with the elements of the lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere. The biosphere is postulated to have evolved, beginning through a process of biogenesis or biopoesis, at least some 3.5 billion years ago.

In a broader sense; biospheres are any closed, self-regulating systems containing ecosystems; including artificial ones such as Biosphere 2 and BIOS-3; and, potentially, ones on other planets or moons.

Some life scientists and earth scientists use biosphere in a more limited sense. For example, geochemists define the biosphere as being the total sum of living organisms (the "biomass" or "biota" as referred to by biologists and ecologists). In this sense, the biosphere is but one of four separate components of the geochemical model, the other three being lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. The narrow meaning used by geochemists is one of the consequences of specialization in modern science. Some might prefer the word ecosphere, coined in the 1960s, as all encompassing of both biological and physical components of the planet.

Every part of the planet, from the polar ice caps to the Equator, supports life of some kind. Recent advances in microbiology have demonstrated that microbes live deep beneath the Earth's terrestrial surface, and that the total mass of microbial life in so-called "uninhabitable zones" may, in biomass, exceed all animal and plant life on the surface. The actual thickness of the biosphere on earth is difficult to measure. Birds typically fly at altitudes of 650 to 1,800 metres, and fish that live deep underwater can be found down to -8,372 metres in the Puerto Rico Trench.


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Hydrology is the study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth and other planets, including the hydrologic cycle, water resources and environmental watershed sustainability. A practitioner of hydrology is a hydrologist, working within the fields of earth or environmental science, physical geography, geology or civil and environmental engineering.

Domains of hydrology include hydrometeorology, surface hydrology, hydrogeology, drainage basin management and water quality, where water plays the central role. Oceanography and meteorology are not included because water is only one of many important aspects. Hydrological research can inform environmental engineering, policy and planning.

The central theme of hydrology is the hydrologic cycle, that of water circulating throughout the Earth through different pathways and at different rates. The most vivid image of this is in the evaporation of water from the ocean, which forms clouds. These clouds drift over the land and produce rain. The rainwater flows into lakes, rivers, or aquifers. The water in lakes, rivers, and aquifers then either evaporates back to the atmosphere or eventually flows back to the ocean, completing a cycle. Water changes its state of being several times throughout this cycle.

Pictured below: The oceans. Water covers 70% of the Earth's surface
Water covers 70% of the Earth's surface


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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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Some mushrooms are very poisonous to humans. Pictured is Omphalotus olearius, commonly known as the Jack-o'-lantern mushroom. This poisonous mushroom is sometimes mistaken for a chanterelle due to similarities in appearances. Its bioluminescence, a blue-green color, is only observable in low light conditions when the eye becomes dark-adapted. The whole mushroom doesn't glow — only the gills do so.
Pictured left: Some mushrooms are very poisonous to humans. Pictured is Omphalotus olearius, commonly known as the Jack-o'-lantern mushroom. This poisonous mushroom is sometimes mistaken for a chanterelle due to similarities in appearances. Its bioluminescence, a blue-green color, is only observable in low light conditions when the eye becomes dark-adapted. The whole mushroom doesn't glow — only the gills do so.

Mycology (from the Greek μύκης, mukēs, meaning "fungus") is the branch of biology concerned with the study of fungi, including their genetic and biochemical properties, their taxonomy and their use to humans as a source for tinder, medicinals (e.g., penicillin), food (e.g., beer, wine, cheese, edible mushrooms) and entheogens, as well as their dangers, such as poisoning or infection. From mycology arose the field of phytopathology, the study of plant diseases, and the two disciplines remain closely related because the vast majority of plant pathogens are fungi. A biologist who studies mycology is called a mycologist. Historically, mycology was a branch of botany because, although fungi are evolutionarily more closely related to animals than to plants, this was not recognized until a few decades ago. Pioneer mycologists included Elias Magnus Fries, Christian Hendrik Persoon, Anton de Bary and Lewis David von Schweinitz. Today the most comprehensively studied and understood fungi are yeasts and eukaryotic model organisms Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe.

Many fungi produce toxins, antibiotics and other secondary metabolites. For example the cosmopolitan (worldwide) genus Fusarium and their toxins associated with fatal outbreaks of alimentary toxic aleukia in humans were extensively studied by Abraham Joffe. Fungi are fundamental for life on earth in their roles as symbionts, e.g. in the form of mycorrhizae, insect symbionts and lichens. Many fungi are able to break down complex organic biomolecules such as lignin, the more durable component of wood, and pollutants such as xenobiotics, petroleum, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. By decomposing these molecules, fungi play a critical role in the global carbon cycle. Fungi and other organisms traditionally recognized as fungi, such as oomycetes and myxomycetes (slime molds), often are economically and socially important as some cause diseases of animals (such as histoplasmosis) as well as plants (such as Dutch elm disease and Rice blast).

Field meetings to find interesting species of fungi are known as 'forays', after the first such meeting organized by the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club in 1868 and entitled "a foray among the fungi."


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An area of the Russian Wilderness, located approximately 65 miles (105 km) northeast of Eureka, California
Pictured left: An area of the Russian Wilderness, located approximately 65 miles (105 km) northeast of Eureka in northern California, in the Klamath National Forest.

Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general. It ranges in scale from the subatomic to the cosmic. Within the various uses of the word today, "nature" often refers to geology and wildlife. Nature may refer to the general realm of various types of living plants and animals, and in some cases to the processes associated with inanimate objects – the way that particular types of things exist and change of their own accord, such as the weather and geology of the Earth, and the matter and energy of which all these things are composed. It is often taken to mean the "natural environment" or wilderness–wild animals, rocks, forest, beaches, and in general those things that have not been substantially altered by human intervention, or which persist despite human intervention. This more traditional concept of natural things which can still be found today implies a distinction between the natural and the artificial, with the artificial being understood as that which has been brought into being by a human consciousness or a human mind. Depending on the particular context, the term "natural" might also be distinguished from the unnatural, the supernatural, or synthetic.

Earth (or, "the earth") is the only planet presently known to support life, and its natural features are the subject of many fields of scientific research. Within the solar system, it is third nearest to the sun; it is the largest terrestrial planet and the fifth largest overall. Its most prominent climatic features are its two large polar regions, two relatively narrow temperate zones, and a wide equatorial tropical to subtropical region. Precipitation varies widely with location, from several metres of water per year to less than a millimetre. 71 percent of the Earth's surface is covered by salt-water oceans. The remainder consists of continents and islands, with most of the inhabited land in the Northern Hemisphere.

The atmospheric conditions have been significantly altered from the original conditions by the presence of life-forms, which create an ecological balance that stabilizes the surface conditions. Despite the wide regional variations in climate by latitude and other geographic factors, the long-term average global climate is quite stable during interglacial periods,[1] and variations of a degree or two of average global temperature have historically had major effects on the ecological balance, and on the actual geography of the Earth.[2]


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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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A White-spotted puffer being cleaned by a bluestreak cleaner wrasse
Pictured left: A White-spotted puffer being cleaned by a bluestreak cleaner wrasse

Cleaner fish are fish that provide a service to other fish species by removing dead skin and ectoparasites. This is an example of mutualism, an ecological interaction that benefits both parties involved. A wide variety of fishes have been observed to display cleaning behaviors including wrasses, cichlids, catfish, and gobies, as well as by a number of different species of cleaner shrimp. There is also at least one predatory mimic, the sabre-toothed blenny, that mimics cleaner fish but in fact feeds on healthy scales and mucous.

The best known cleaner fish are the cleaner wrasses of the genus Labroides found on coral reefs in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. These small fish maintain so-called cleaning stations where other fish, known as hosts, will congregate and perform specific movements to attract the attention of the cleaner fish. Remarkably, these small cleaner fish will safely clean large predatory fish that would otherwise eat small fish such as these. Cleaner wrasses appear to get almost all their nutrition through this cleaning service, and when maintained in aquaria rarely survive for long because they cannot obtain enough to eat.

Cleaning behaviors have been observed in a number of other fish groups. Neon gobies of the genera Gobiosoma and Elacatinus provide a cleaning service similar to the cleaner wrasses, though this time on reefs in the Western Atlantic, providing a good example of convergent evolution. Unlike the cleaner wrasses, they also eat a variety of small animals as well being cleaner fish, and generally do well in aquaria. However, the Caribbean cleaning goby (Elacatinus evelynae) will gladly eat scales and mucus from the host when the ectoparasites it normally feeds on are scarce, making the relationship somewhat less than mutually beneficial. The symbiosis does not break down because the abundance of these parasites varies significantly seasonally and spacially, and the overall benefit to the larger fish outweighs any cheating on the part of the smaller


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A landscape with agriculture, tree corridors and housing in Dombrád, Hungary
Pictured left: A landscape with agriculture, tree corridors and housing in Dombrád, Hungary

Landscape ecology is the science of studying and improving relationships between urban development and ecological processes in the environment and particular ecosystems. This is done within a variety of landscape scales, development spatial patterns, and organizational levels of research and policy.

As a highly interdisciplinary science in systems ecology, landscape ecology integrates biophysical and analytical approaches with humanistic and holistic perspectives across the natural sciences and social sciences. Landscapes are spatially heterogeneous geographic areas characterized by diverse interacting patches or ecosystems, ranging from relatively natural terrestrial and aquatic systems such as forests, grasslands and lakes to human-dominated environments including agricultural and urban settings. The most salient characteristics of landscape ecology are its emphasis on the relationship among pattern, process and scale and its focus on broad-scale ecological and environmental issues. These necessitate the coupling between biophysical and socioeconomic sciences. Key research topics in landscape ecology include ecological flows in landscape mosaics, land use and land cover change, scaling, relating landscape pattern analysis with ecological processes, and landscape conservation and sustainability

Heterogeneity is the measure of how different parts of a landscape are from one another. Landscape ecology looks at how this spatial structure affects organism abundance at the landscape level, as well as the behavior and functioning of the landscape as a whole. This includes studying the influence of pattern, or the internal order of a landscape, on process, or the continuous operation of functions of organisms. Landscape ecology also includes geomorphology as applied to the design and architecture of landscapes. Geomorphology is the study of how geological formations are responsible for the structure of a landscape.


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