Ecology was originally defined in the mid-19th century by Ernst Haeckel, who defined 'ecology' as the study of the relationship of organisms with their environment. In the intervening century and a half, other definitions of ecology have been proposed to reflect growth of the discipline, to found new specialities, or to mark out disciplinary territory Modern ecology is based on the interpretation of three recognised definitions. The first as proposed by Ernst Haeckel, and thought to be the oldest, was -- the study of the relationship of organisms to the environment. The second, which is perhaps the one that is heard most often, considers ecology to be the study of the distribution and abundance of organisms (Andrewartha and Birch 1954). The third is one that focuses ecology on the study of ecosystems (Odum 1971).
"That land is a community is the
basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and
respected is an extension of ethics"
- Aldo Leopold (1886-1948) -
Ecology today, considers the dynamics, interrelationships and individual components of ecosystems, rather than simply the relationship of individuals with their environment, and includes both the abiotic and the biotic elements of the natural world.
Ecology is now associated with a diverse range of sub-divisions, each adopting aspects of the general definition described above. The word ecology, is also often used in a descriptive sense to annotate the interaction of singular aspects, individuals or component parts within a given situation or system.
The term ecosystem is used to describe the interaction of all the organisms in a given place, plus the physical environment, plus the processes responsible for the flow of energy and minerals (nutrients) through the system, including both biotic and abiotic components. All ecosystems are open systems in that individual components can flow in and out, adjacent systems interact and a number of systems can be component parts of a much bigger one (eg. The Earth).
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