BIOL 2060 Lecture Notes - Polar Front, Eugenius Warming, Atmospheric Circulation
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Unit 1: Introduction to Ecology
Section 1. 1: What is Ecology?
-Ecology: The scientific study of the interactions between organisms and their physical
and biological environments.
-Abiotic: The physical and chemical non-living aspects of an organism's environment.
-Biotic: The living aspects of an organism's environment, i.e., the other organisms of the
same or different species.
-Natural History: A descriptive enumeration of individual species and the
environments in which they occur, dealing mainly with the questions "what?",
"when?", and "where?"
-Environmental Studies: Study of the environment, including the social, political, and
ethical aspects or dimensions.
-Environmentalism: A political or advocacy movement, especially in politics and
consumer affairs, that works toward protecting the natural world from harmful human
-Objective: Without bias or personal opinion; based on facts, not emotions.
-Subjective: Modified by individual bias, rather than based on facts.
-Uncertainty: The lack of conviction or knowledge about an outcome or result.
1. Define ecology, and contrast it to natural history, environmental studies, and
Ecology is the scientific study of the interations between organisms and their physical and
biological environment. It is about understanding the mechanisms causing the patterns that
occur in the natural world. It is broader than from natural history as it incorporates the
questions “how?” and “why?” in addition to “what?”, “when?” and “where?”
Furthermore, ecology differs from environmental studies which includes social, political,
and ethical dimensions or with environmentalism (i.e., a political or advocacy movement).
Ecology results in the gain of objective knowledge, and environmental studies apply this
gained knowledge with subjective value judgments.
2. Understand the limits to the science of ecology:
Ecology is still a young discipline (< 150 years old) compared to other sciences. Therefore,
we may not yet understand enough about how individuals, populations, communities and
ecosystems work to provide definitive answers.
Activity for Additional Learning:
1. Which seven levels of biological organization are studied in ecology?
2. What is the significance of ecology as a young scientific discipline?
Because ecology is such a young discipline, we cannot expect more from the science of
ecology than it can give, given the length of time it has existed and the complexity of the
systems that it is trying to handle. However, this uncertainty is something to be embraced,
not something to fear and run away from. It is an invitation to continue to explore the
world around us.
Section 1.2: Science and the Scientific Method
-Science: An objective, logical, and repeatable attempt to understand the principles and
forces operating in the natural universe; it is an on-going process of testing and
evaluating ideas rather than a fixed body of knowledge.
-Scientific method: A formal style of study or research in which a problem is identified,
pertinent information is assembled, a hypothesis is advanced and tested empirically,
and the hypothesis is accepted or rejected.
-Hypothesis: A potential reason or explanation for an observed pattern.
-Prediction: An educated guess of what will be observed if a hypothesis is correct.
-Scepticism: The constant examination of the evidence, arguments, and reasons for our
Activity for Additional Learning:
1. What are the steps in the scientific method?
- Observations : The first step in the scientific method is to make some observations.
- Hypotheses : The second step of the scientific method is to make some hypotheses. A
hypothesis is a potential reason or explanation for an observed pattern.
- Predictions : The third step of the scientific method is to make some predictions. A
prediction is an implication of your hypothesis, and it guides the design of a study to
test your hypothesis.
2. What is the difference between observations, hypotheses, and predictions?
Here are examples of an appropriate observation, hypothesis, and prediction:
- Observation : There are no eastern meadowlarks found in northern Ontario.
- Hypothesis: Temperatures in northern Ontario are lower than the physiological
temperature tolerance of eastern meadowlarks.
- Prediction : The mortality of a population of eastern meadowlarks will increase
with decreasing temperature.
Section 1.3: Principles of Sampling Design for Making
-Haphazard sampling: A method used to determine the distribution of a species in
which you arbitrarily decide where to take your samples, often for convenience in
terms of time, budget, or logistics.
-Random sampling: A method used to generate an unbiased representation of the
distribution of a species because all the subsets of a geographic area have an equal
probability of being selected in the sample.
-Systematic sampling: A method used to determine the distribution of a species by
taking samples at predetermined, regular spatial intervals across the area you are