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Lecture 1 - Ecology Introduction

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Biology 2483A
Hugh Henry

LECTURE 1: ECOLOGY INTRODUCTION Ecology 1. The scientific study of interactions between organisms and their environment 2. The scientific study of interactions that determine the distribution (geographic location) and abundance of organisms  Other meanings in public usage  Differs from environmental activism and environmental science (solutions to environmental problems) General Misconceptions  Balance of nature – return to original preferred state after disturbance  Each species has a distinct role to play in maintaining that balance Ecological Maxims (Guiding Principles) 1. Organisms interact and are interconnected 2. Everything goes somewhere 3. No population can increase in size forever 4. Finite energy and resources result in tradeoffs  Tradeoffs can be thought of as an investment of energy by species 5. Organisms evolve 6. Communities and ecosystems change over time  Change can happen either very rapidly or very slowly, depending on the species; biased/limited by our own perception because of our own lifespan so we overlook changes 7. Spatial scale matters Ecological Hierarchy  ORGANISM  POPULATION  COMMUNITY  ECOSYSTEM  BIOSPHERE  Population: group of individuals of a species that are living and interacting in a particular area  Community: association of populations of different species in the same area  Ecological studies often include both the biotic (living components), and abiotic (physical components) of natural systems  Ecosystem: community of organisms plus the physical environment o An ecosystem is not simply a collection of communities, but nutrients, water, and abiotic components are considered o Landscapes are collections of ecosystems  Landscapes: areas with substantial differences, typically including multiple ecosystems.  All the world’s ecosystems comprise the biosphere—all living organisms on Earth plus the environments in which they live Key Terms for Studying Connections in Nature  Adaptation: a characteristic that improves survival or reproduction  Natural selection: individuals with certain adaptations tend to survive and reproduce at a higher rate than other individuals  If the adaptation is heritable, the frequency of the characteristic may increase in a population over time Ecological Experiments can be done at Different Scales  Lab work – microbial activity in response to a certain environmental stressor can be tested in the lab; a disadvantage, however, is that realistic information is lost  Studies in natural environment – less control in comparison to lab work  Artificial unit is placed in a natural environment Ecosystem Processes  Producers capture energy from an external source (e.g. the sun) and use it to produce food  Net primary productivity (NPP): Energy captured by producers, minus the amount lost as heat in cellular respiration – currency with which we describe ecosystems  Consumers get energy by eating other organisms or their remains Ecological Experiments: Design and Analysis 1. Assignments of treatments and control 2. Replication 3. Random assignment of treatments 4. Statistical analyses (statistical vs. biological significance) Scientific Method  Scientists use a series of steps called the scientific method: 1. Make observations and ask questions 2. Use previous knowledge or intuition to develop hypotheses 3. Evaluate hypotheses by experimentation, observational studies, or quantitative models 4. Use the results to modify the hypotheses, pose new questions, or draw conclusions about the natural world  The process is iterative and self-correcting
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