What is Ecology? Definition, Types, Importance, Scope And Examples

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What is Ecology

None of the living entity is independent and associated to environment in terms of light, energy, shelter, or any other environmental factors. The study of interrelation between living entity and to its environment is called as Ecology. For example, the adopted methodologies, theories and frameworks to develop the understanding the relations of human to its environment are human ecology. The human is the most intellectual organism and revealed higher resilience to adapt the environment.


The hunting and gathering activities are the examples for adaptation against the environment in ancient era. However, in present era, potable water, clean air, food, and energy are the major ingredients of a livable environment. To target the supply of these ingredients a variety of evolving changes like reverse osmosis filter water, air purifier, and organic food stuffs etc. has been adopted. In this context, the study of foraging (hunting and gathering) activity and other modifications in order to survive and thrive consider as human ecology.
The ecology was on track with the human evolution on earth. The study of relationship of organism to its environment was initially termed as Ethology by a French Zoologist, 1859 which is today in limelight due to the huge crisis of natural resources. Further, a German biologist Reiter, 1866 coined term Oekologie. Afterward, in 1867 E. Haeckel introduces the term firstly in literature (Egerton, 2013).


As we know, if you make a sound in front to a well the sound will revert as eco sound. Now you may understand the meaning of Eco. Eco reflects reaction in response to any action. Etiologically eco means “to house” (originated from Greek word oikos meaning house) and logos means “to study”. Here, it is important to understand that the all the things around us or surrounding is considered as an environment. Basically, the environment is originated from two words i.e. ‘environrer and ment’. Where, ‘environer’ indicates to the surrounding and ‘ment’ means action. Thus, the environment means the action of surrounding those influences to the organism. The environment has two components i.e. biotic and abiotic. Further, it has three domains i.e. lithosphere (sphere of landmasses and soils), hydrosphere (sphere of water bodies) and atmosphere (sphere of air masses).
Fig 1. Ecology: Interactions in biotic and abiotic component

The sphere of living beings is considered as biosphere. The biosphere interactive to all the three spheres of land, water and air, these interactions and interrelations form the ecosystems. 
The ecosystem is the structural and functional unit of Ecology. Ecology is defined as the scientific study of interactions and interrelations of biotic and abiotic factors.
Ecology is the branch of biology to study the organism in reference to living place such as household, habitat and circumstances of dwelling place. Basically, the life of an organism is existed, connected and influenced by the other organism and the surrounding abiotic environment. In our environment, we connected with non-living factors closely like temperature, and other climatic factors e.g. we, human beings, put the cloths according to the ambient temperature woolen during winter, light cotton cloths during summer, our life style is according to temperature. 
In case of plants the vital activity of plants including flower bloom etc. are dependent to temperature. In another end if we considering the biotic interaction it may be in between same species (population), between different organisms (community). The biotic community along with the abiotic component is called as ecosystem. A biosphere is an ecological region of characteristic climate and share the highest level of ecological hierarchy. To sum up the things, the life of a living being is associated with the biotic community and non-living factors in a space. Basically, the study the interactions with the biotic community of the individuals along with the abiotic factors in relation to its habitat. 
The leaf litters decomposition recycled back the nutrients to the soil from where it obtained for their growth and development. The leaf litter decomposition returned back the nutrients to soil. The decomposition of leaf litter also depends on the environmental abiotic conditions. Hence, the environmental conditions are helpful to maintain the stability of the nature (Monika et al., 2017).

Definition of Ecology

A branch of biology dedicated to study the interactions and interrelationship of biotic communities and abiotic factors in relation to the physical space is called ecology. In nutshell, the study of interrelationship between habitat and inhabitants’ biotic community is called as ecology e.g. the interrelationship of a lake and its algae, fishes other organisms.
The cluster of ecosystems is called ecology and ecosystem is an integral part of ecology. It is considered as the structural and functional unit of ecology. Ecology is extensively studied by researchers and they have defined it in different flavor. But the gist is to study of living beings along with its biotic and abiotic interactions at its living place.

The organism exists in their ecological favorable environment and as the environmental condition is deviating from the desired environmental condition the population of organism started to decline gradually in response to the environmental condition. The decline in the population reflects that the organism is in stress environment and not able to tolerate the stressful environmental condition. If population survives in environmental condition means either the condition if favorable or organism has the ability to adapt and acclimatize the prevailing condition. These environmental variable are numerous mainly water stress, thermal (temperature) stress and light etc.

When organism is out of their optimum range of tolerance certainly they effort to change or modify their characteristics and features to survive in harsh or intolerant environmental condition as physiological response to environment. The effort may be temporary and reversible for time being and it may be for permanent, irreversible and genetically too. Adaptation is a permanent genetically determined physiological response to environmental stress. Acclimatization is a temporary, reversible, short durational physiological change (adjustment) / response to the environmental stress.The atoms together form a molecule. Different molecules are the constituents of a living cell. A number of cells organize an organism. Organism is a basic entity of an ecosystem. The total number of an organism of same individuals in an area is population. Two or more than two populations together form a community. The community of living being live in a surrounding place (abiotic) collectively called as ecosystem. The ecosystem is a basic and functional unit of ecology Fig 1.

The ecology comprises all the interactions among living beings and with abiotic components. Apart from abiotic component, the biotic relations are also a part of living place and influence the organism’s life. All the interactions, either among biotic or abiotic that influence life of living beings are ecology. Thus, the abiotic factors or physical environment are crucially significant in maintaining ecosystem. The healthy environmental conditions tree improves the tree growth and ultimately develops the higher carbon sequestration (Bijalwan et al., 2017).

Biotic interactions
Biotic interactions are playing a crucial protagonist to decide the existence and survival at a specific place in long run. The biotic interactions are very dynamic component and directly influence the life of habitat. These interactions are also time dependent and changes with time of maturity of the prevailing landscape. There are certain examples of biotic interactions like prey-predator relations, allelopathy and symbiosis. However, the biotic interaction influences the life of each and every living being direct or indirect mode.
The study of biotic interaction in the field of ecology is very crucial and complex too. Keep in this view the biotic interactions are tabulated here in summarize format.

Table 1: Biotic interactions and its effects in Ecology
Biotic interactions and its effects in Ecology

Ecological Pyramids

The ecological pyramid represents trophic structure and function of an ecosystem. The pyramid may be for Numbers, Biomass, Energy and Productivity. The hierarchical level is the outcome of consequences of the entire role played by individuals. Due to the high production found at lower of trophic levels, consequently the "upright" pyramid is usually obtained for biomass, energy, and numbers except the Forest pyramid for Numbers and  Aquatic system pyramids for Biomass. The inverted pyramid in tree reveals (a single tree- → numerous birds → uncountable parasites) the increasing numbers individuals with successive trophic levels. However, generally the numbers of individuals decrease with successive trophic levels e.g. pyramids of grassland and aquatic ecosystem. Likewise, the biomass of individuals is also decrease with successive trophic levels (except aquatic ecosystem) e.g. pyramids of biomass for forest and grassland ecosystems. Owing to the unidirectional flow of energy in successive trophic levels all the pyramids of energy and all the pyramids of productivity are always upright.

Ecological Niche 

The organisms live at a place and also play some role. The ecological niche concept propagate the theory of specialized microenvironment distinctly provide specific characteristic to (re)produce, to grow and proliferate. The role is also connected with or assign by the position of the organism e.g. the position of any organism in a trophic level determine the role of organism. The growth of a tree and the contribution of tree are depended to the existing place of tree. The prevailing xeric, hydric and other environmental conditions of a soil influence the growth parameters of existing tree and design the growth and dynamics of the tree and ultimately also scale the role and contribution of the tree. Although, the study of niche is confined or restricted to, in term of physical space only. However, niche is beyond the physical space of an organism. As the ‘n’ numbers of factors influence the specialized living place, the ‘n’ number of variable are linked to the niche of an organism. Summarily, the ecological niche is not just physical space occupied by an organism it also includes the functional role, idea, and attributes of an organism at specialized habitat.

Types of Ecology

The life on earth system is dependent to numerous factors either biotic interactions or abiotic components. The ecological study as is very complex to interpret.

Figure 2: Types of Ecology

The species-wise study in this regard has a tremendous potential. The species specific initially started ecologist for animal study. Afterward it becomes popular especially in field of agronomy, horticulture, floriculture, orchard, viticulture, plantation crop etc. as it is a source of economic and cash crop. The species-specific ecological study of single population is called as autecology. In simple sense, it is study of individuals of same species in relation to its habitat and distribution Fig 2. Synecology: The ecological study in relation to multiple species with habitat is called as Synecology.

Importance of Ecology

The ecological effects are the crucial factor that is responsible for survival and growth of biotic community in its environment. Ecological factors affect the essential physiological processes are including the light, temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind, fire, edaphic factors, topographic factors and biotic factors.
Figure 3: The hierarchical levels in Ecology

Light may affect the following processes that have direct significant role in plant growth and survival: photosynthesis, transpiration, movements, flowering, and seed germination.

Temperature may affect the following processes that have direct significant role in plant growth and survival: metabolism, flowering, growth and development, desiccation, chilling, freezing.

The vegetation architectures of plant are ecological attributes of the climatic environment mainly influenced or designed by precipitation. On the basis of the rainfall distribution the type of vegetation propagates into the region are as follows: Xerophytic vegetation, evergreen forest, grassland, sclerophyll us forests.

The most important edaphic factor is soil that has tremendous role in plant growth as it supplies the water, essential nutrients and support to grow. Thus on the basis of soil condition the growing plants are categorized as: Oxylophytes (acidic soil), Halophytes (on salty/saline soil), Lithophytes (rocks), Chasmophytes (rock crevices), Psammophytes (sandy soil).

Ecological factors affect the essential physiological processes including the following: photosynthesis, transpiration, movements, flowering, and seed germination.

The feeding habit of individual is a specific characteristic which categories and place the individual into a hierarchical arrangement to form a trophic structure and the level of this food structure is called as trophic level. The linear arrangement of individuals through successive trophic levels forms a chain and called as Food Chain. The assemblage of multiples food chain together form a web like structure called as Food Web. 

Ecological Responses 

The physiological response (adaptation) of plant to water stress The plant exists in dry habitat and able to tolerate the dry condition (xeric) are called as xerophytes. 
The environmental gradient addressing the soil water interaction and its availability to plant soil is studied in terms of xeric, optimum and hydric condition of soil. The xeric and hydric condition is directly linked with the nutrient availability and unavailability. Moreover, these conditions reduce the biodiversity of existing region by the vanishing the plants incapable to tolerate the condition of specialized microhabitat and also influence the extent of biotic interactions. The organism capable to tolerate the environmental gradient only will survive to the locality. The diminishing out of one species from a tolerance range will pitch for another species which will be adaptive to the environmental variable. During the process of adaptation and acclimatization the organism may change, loose and/or acquire some characteristic e.g. xeric plants modify their body tissue to capture water for longer storage, xeric plants have specialized leaves structure to reduce the transpiration loss.

Table 2: Xeric plants and its response to drought

Table 3: Morphological, anatomical and physiological response to thermal stress

Relationship with discipline of science and humanities 
The ecology is a comprehensive science dealing the relations, interactions and exchange between the organisms in context to habitat. Habitats are distributed diversely in nature with coverage to the sea, terrestrial and atmosphere. Thus, ecology stretched to entire biosphere and linked with many disciplines of animal, plant, marine and many more. As per the linkage with diverse field ecology may be specialized with different name discussed in Fig 4.
Ecology in relation to disciplines of science and humanities
Fig 4: Ecology in relation to disciplines of science and humanities

The famous quote “Protecting nature and the wilderness for its own sake” describes deep ecology.

Scope of Ecology 

The limitless energy of Universe emitted from the Sun is scattered which reach to earth in form of quanta. The radial energy in form of quanta is abundantly present which is converted by green plants to chemical energy. This chemical energy is flow in all biotic community through food chain and food web. The photosynthesis process depends on the accessibility and availability of light and in organic nutrients. The photosynthesis is one of the prime ecological process that essentially significant for life on earth. As, it is an ecological process hence the biotic component (green pigment of leaves) interdependent to some abiotic factors too (sunlight, nutrients and water). In an ecosystem, the flow of energy is a unidirectional. The typical example energy flow in an ecosystem is as follows: 
Sun’s energy → Primary producers → Herbivores → Carnivores. Similarly, the energy flow in a grassland ecosystem is as follows: Grasses → rabbit → wolf → tiger.

In contrast to photosynthesis, some organism exhibits chemosynthesis activity the CO2 fixation using energy derived from inorganic and organic compounds is called chemosynthetic organism.
In lake ecology, the study of eutrophic condition of shallow lake, the above mentioned abiotic factors may acts as deciding (limiting) factors and regulated the process by their extent of presence. For example, in eutrophic lake the presence of inorganic nutrient (especially phosphorus) is the deciding factor for growth of algae instead of light. The presence of inorganic Phosphorus is directly proportional to the algal bloom in lake.
As per the Gaia hypothesis (the environment facilitate to organism and/or microenvironment for evolution and this intricate, auto-regulatory ecosystem supports make the condition favorable for life) the abiotic environment play the crucial determining role to decide the existing biotic life in an ecosystem. Ecad are genetically similar forms of the same organisms but morphologically distinct in response to the prevailing environmental condition. The changes are temporary and reversible when the environmental condition reverts. The individuals are same genotypes and environmental induced phenotypic differences in vegetative traits like size, shape, height etc. e.g.

Plantago maritina, Euphorbia hirta. Sometime the environmental induced changes in traits fix for permanently and interbreed then the individual is called Ecotype. Similarly, an ecotype is genetically different forms of the same organisms but in response to environmental factors, the physiological, behavioral and structural changed permanently e.g. Arabis fecuda

The different parameters like precipitation, temperature, solar radiation & wind speed in different types of forest ecosystem determine the growth of tree as well as it also deciding 
factors for litter fall. Research has concluded the trend of litter mass production in pattern (with maximum in Mangrove forest and minimum in Boreal needle-leaved forest) as follows:
Mangrove forest > Tropical evergreen forest > Tropical rain-green forest > Temperate broadleaved evergreen forest > Temperate summer-green forest > Temperate needle leaved forest > Boreal needle-leaved forest

The emergent property principle sets the segment in different levels according to the outcome of their interactions and role of the segment. Afterward due to this emergent property principle, the hierarchical arrangement of ecological levels reveals that each upper level depicts a new property that was not available in at its lower hierarchical level (s).
The biosphere is the physical space on lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere where life exists. Biosphere is the top position in hierarchical levels of ecosystem. As we know, the ultimate source of energy on earth is Sun. The photosynthetic activity harnesses this energy after converting to make utilizable to mankind through food chain and food web. The diverse forest type exists on earth like Tropical, Subtropical, Temperate, Humid etc.

The warm humid climate is the characteristics of tropical rain forest which supports broadleaf evergreen trees. Tropical rain forest confined to equatorial region and stretched to Southeast Asia, Amazon forest-scapes of South America, Central America and Africa. Tropical rain forest claims maximum productivity and this biome retain the maximum diversity of species composition as it characterized as multi-layered vegetation. The five stories of vegetation are herb, shrubs, tree, climbers and creepers. It located in Adman and Nicobar Island, Western Ghat, Assam and coastlines of India.

The ‘n’ number of variables is responsible for the growth and development of ecological life. The nature has designed the feedback mechanism to balance the population of organisms in a particular place / habitat / microhabitat with some sort of environmental gradient. As the human population explosion, the ecological disruption took place and hamper the ecology in terms of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation etc. In this regard habitat fragmentation is described here in details in perspective of other discipline of science and humanities.
Fig 4. Habitat fragmentation and its consequences

The new construction of road or other project in forest area always results the habitat fragmentation and scarifies the life of wilds animals, plants, insects and other organisms in many terms. The road construction activity in natural habitat is explained here to understand the impacts on natural habitat and their life. The fragmented habitat exposed extensively and changes the soil micro-biota by the beating action of wind. It accelerates the impacts of temperature fluctuation by breaking up the temperature regulating capacity / buffer of forest habitat. Intrinsically, woodland have regulated the temperature naturally by the activity of supply more oxygen through photosynthesis, the multi-layered vegetation prevents the direct penetration to forest soil. The temperature stabilization and wind flow regarding edge effect for the creation of new microhabitat that is delicately distinct from original one. The new microhabitat will definitely less suitable to the previous flora and fauna however it may be suitable to some of species and will helpful to establish that species only in this region. This event creates an isolation of some species that further reduce the no of other species due to allelopathic and several other responses. Further the traffic induced disturbance will hamper to the destruction of the sensitive species at early stage and later on effects on other species too. The traffic induced activity of will also trigger the encroachment and on road killings. Ultimately the human accelerated access will destroy the entire ecosystem.

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