Animal Ecology, Biology tutorial


Ecology is scientific study of relation of living organisms with each other and their surroundings. Ecosystems are stated by the web, community, or network of individuals which arrange in the self-organized and complex hierarchy of pattern and process. Ecosystems make the biophysical feedback between living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) components of the environment which produces and manages biogeochemical cycles of planet. Ecosystems give goods and services which maintain human societies and general well-being. Ecosystems are maintained by biodiversity inside them. Biodiversity is full-scale of life and its procedures, comprising genes, species and ecosystems forming lineages which integrate in the complex and regenerative spatial arrangement of kinds, forms, and interactions.

Ecology is the sub-discipline of biology, study of life. Word ecology was coined in 1866 by German scientist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). Haeckel was the artist, zoologist, writer, and later in life professor of comparative anatomy. Ancient philosophers of Greece, with Hippocrates and Aristotle, were among the earliest to record notes and observations on natural history of plants and animals; early rudiments of modern ecology.

Modern ecology generally branched out of natural history, science which flourished in late 19th century. Charles Darwin's evolutionary treatise and concept of adaptation as it was initiated in 1859 is a essential cornerstone in modern ecological theory. Ecology is not synonymous with environment, environmentalism, natural history or environmental science. Ecology is strongly related to biological disciplines of evolution, physiology, genetics and behavior. The understanding of how biodiversity affects ecological function is the significant focus area in ecological studies. Ecosystems maintain every life supporting function on planet, comprising water filtration, climate regulation, soil formation (pedogenesis), fibers, medicines, erosion control, food, and several other natural characteristics of historical, spiritual or scientific value. Ecologists seek to describe:

  • Life processes and adaptations
  • Distribution and abundance of organisms
  • The movement of materials and energy through living communities
  • The succession development of ecosystems. and
  • The abundance and distribution of biodiversity in context of the environment.

There are many practical applications of ecology in wetland management, conservation biology, natural resource management (agriculture, forestry, fisheries), city planning (urban ecology), economics, community health, basic and applied science, and it gives the theoretical framework for understanding and researching human social interaction (human ecology).

Historical Background:

Studies of animal distribution started in nineteenth century, but formal development of animal ecology didn't occur until 1920s. Elton's work, frequently involving northern fur-bearing animals of commercial value, made the number of concepts part of naturalist's vocabulary, comprising ecological niche, food chain, and pyramid of numbers, i.e., decrease in numbers of individual organisms, or total quantity (weight) of organisms, at every successive stage in the food chain, from plants and plant-eating animals at bottom to large carnivores at top. Though some of the early work in animal ecology, mainly in United States, tried to model itself on plant ecology, by 1930s animal ecology had emerged as the independent field. The integrative perspective also emerged in soil science, as in Sergei Winogradsky's turn-of-the-century studies of soil microbiology, and in studies of biogeochemical cycles, as in work of Russian geochemist Vladímir Vernadsky, who introduced term biosphere in 1914. Though, integrative concept which had broadest appeal and played the essential role in bringing together the several different strands of ecological science was that of ecosystem.

Tansley was Britain's primary plant ecologist and founder in 1913 of British Ecological Society, first such national organization, formed 2 years earlier than its American counterpart. The pioneer in vegetation surveys, the critic of Clements's idea of climax community, the passionate conservationist, and student of Sigmund Freud, Tansley brought broad experience and erudition to bear on problem of identifying ideal ecological unit of study. He recommended that term ecosystem captured the concept best without implying any mysterious vital properties.

Though earlier preoccupations with community categorization and structure, population dynamics, and patterns of distribution continued in postwar years, newer methodologies, practices, and conceptual schemes took hold, and ecology as the science and the profession grew in status, size, and organization. Ecosystem research soon expanded from its base in Atomic Energy Commission. It also prospered among small group of Tansley's followers at new Nature Conservancy in Britain. It became the necessary characteristics of modern ecological science, message conveyed to numerous generations of students worldwide through successive editions of Eugene P. Odum's Introduction to Ecology, first published in 1953.

Postwar years also saw shift toward quantitative features of ecology. Mathematical methods developed in United States, Europe, and Soviet Union during interwar period joined with war-born techniques involving information systems and cybernetics to create movement toward mathematical modeling and computer replication of populations, communities, and ecosystems. Much of this modeling and its methods came under attack during last decades of twentieth century. Few ecologists abandoned model building for empirical studies, others worked on refining and enhancing models, and several called in question underlying notions of stability and equilibrium upon which most of models were based.

Devastation brought by World War II also contributed to greater post-war interest in conservation of natural resources, protection of wildlife, and preservation of natural environments, the trend that, when linked in 1960s with social criticism, blossomed in international environmental movement which drew heavily on concepts and theories of ecology.

As had occurred before war in more limited way among few visionaries, ecology now came to be extensively viewed not only as source of remedies for environmental ills but also as scientific underpinning for the new social order. This proved to be mixed blessing for ecologists. On the one hand, funding for ecological research increased significantly, and several more people were drawn in field.

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