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Ecology (from Greek: οἶκος, "house", or "environment"; -λογία, "study of") is the branch of biology which studies the interactions among organisms and their environment. Objects of study include interactions of organisms with each other and with abiotic components of their environment. Topics of interest include the biodiversity, distribution, biomass, and populations of organisms, as well as cooperation and competition within and between species. Ecosystems are dynamically interacting systems of organisms, the communities they make up, and the non-living components of their environment. Ecosystem processes, such as primary production, pedogenesis, nutrient cycling, and niche construction, regulate the flux of energy and matter through an environment. These processes are sustained by organisms with specific life history traits. Biodiversity means the varieties of species, genes, and ecosystems, enhances certain ecosystem services.

Ecology is not synonymous with environmentalism, natural history, or environmental science. It overlaps with the closely related sciences of evolutionary biology, genetics, and ethology. An important focus for ecologists is to improve the understanding of how biodiversity affects ecological function. Ecologists seek to explain:

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

Ecology has practical applications in conservation biology, wetland management, natural resource management (agroecology, agriculture, forestry, agroforestry, fisheries), city planning (urban ecology), community health, economics, basic and applied science, and human social interaction (human ecology). For example, the Circles of Sustainability approach treats ecology as more than the environment 'out there'. It is not treated as separate from humans. Organisms (including humans) and resources compose ecosystems which, in turn, maintain biophysical feedback mechanisms that moderate processes acting on living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) components of the planet. Ecosystems sustain life-supporting functions and produce natural capital like biomass production (food, fuel, fiber, and medicine), the regulation of climate, global biogeochemical cycles, water filtration, soil formation, erosion control, flood protection, and many other natural features of scientific, historical, economic, or intrinsic value.

The word "ecology" ("Ökologie") was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel. Ecological thought is derivative of established currents in philosophy, particularly from ethics and politics. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Hippocrates and Aristotle laid the foundations of ecology in their studies on natural history. Modern ecology became a much more rigorous science in the late 19th century. Evolutionary concepts relating to adaptation and natural selection became the cornerstones of modern ecological theory.

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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.

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Credit: Bruce Fritz, USDA Agricultural Research Service

Sunflowers were domesticated by humans, and are native to Central America. The evidence thus far is that it was first domesticated in Mesoamerica|, present day Mexico, by at least 2600 BC. It may have been domesticated a second time in the middle Mississippi Valley, or been introduced there from Mexico at an early date, as maize was. Sunflower leaves can be used as a cattle feed, while the stems contain a fiber which may be used in paper production.

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Pierre Dansereau, CC GOQ FRSC (born 1911) is a Canadian ecologist known as one of the "fathers of ecology".

Born in Outremont, Quebec (now part of Montreal), he received a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture (B.Sc.A.) in 1936 and a PH.d. in Science in 1939 from the University of Geneva. From 1939 until 1942 he worked at the Montreal Botanical Garden. From 1943 until 1950 he taught at the Université de Montréal. From 1950 until 1955 he worked at the University of Michigan Botanical Gardens. From 1955 until 1961 he worked in the Faculty of Science and as the director of the Botanical Institute at the Université de Montréal. In 1961 he returned to the United States as the assistant director of the New York Botanical Garden and as a professor of botany and geography at the Columbia University. From 1972 until 1976 he was the Director of the Research Centre for Sciences and the Environment at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). In 1976 he was made a Professor Emeritus at UQAM.

He is the subject of a 2001 documentary An Ecology of Hope by his cousin, Quebec filmmaker Fernand Dansereau.

Did you know...

...industrial ecology is the study of material and energy flows through industrial systems? The global industrial economy can be modeled as a network of industrial processes that extract resources from the Earth and transform those resources into commodities which can be bought and sold to meet the needs of humanity.
(Pictured left: Example of Industrial Symbiosis. Waste steam from a waste incinerator (right) is piped to an ethanol plant (left) where it is used as in input to their production process.)
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Ecology news

From the Wikinews Environment portal
  • January 12: Scientists report correlation between locations of Easter Island statues and water resources
  • November 26: US National Climate Assessment warns of climate-related damages to economy, ecosystems, human health
  • October 10: UN Report on Global Warming calls for rapid 'unprecedented' changes globally to limit planetary warming to 1.5 degree C
  • August 30: Brisbane, Australia Magistrates Court charges two cotton farmers with $20m fraud
  • August 10: New South Wales, Australia government says entire state in winter 2018 drought
  • June 25: India: Maharashtra plastic ban comes into force
  • June 10: New study of endangered whale shark youth shows vital habitat similarities
  • April 9: Woolworths, Australia moves single-use plastic bags ban date to June 20
  • March 21: Kenyan conservancy euthanises last male northern white rhino; only two females remain
  • March 3: French fashion brand Lacoste announces limited-edition logo change from crocodile to endangered animals

Additional News Highlights
  • November 5, 2009: "New ocean forming in African desert."
More ecology news on Wikinews

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Nearly 97% of the world's water is salty or otherwise undrinkable. Another 2% is locked in ice caps and glaciers. Only 1% can be used for all agricultural, residential, manufacturing, community and personal needs.

American Water Works Association, National Drinking Water Week

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Oikos is an international scientific journal published monthly by the Nordic Society Oikos in the field of ecology. It was previously known as Acta Oecologica Scandinavica. Oikos is published in collaboration with Ecography, Lindbergia, the Journal of Avian Biology, and with the monograph series Ecological Bulletins.

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Learning resources



Web resources

  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Ecology
  • The Encyclopedia of Earth – Wilderness: Biology & Ecology
  • The Nature Education Knowledge Project – Ecology
  • Ecology Dictionary – Explanation of ecological terms
  • Ecology Journals – List of ecological scientific journals

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