Jun. 24, 2020

A Holistic Endeavor

Ecology is a multidisciplinary science because of all the other fields you need to be aware of to grasp its concepts. To understand these interactions, you have to first be able to understand the different parts and then how those parts interact. For the organisms this means biochemistry and biology, including genetics, botany, animal physiology, animal behavior, microbiology. For the environments this means geochemistry, weather patterns, nutrient cycles, geological processes, human impact (in terms of physically changing our environments and also the pollution of water, soil, and air).

Ecology takes advantage of physics because every biotic process implies the transfer and storing of energy. Producer organisms, like plants, take advantage of light energy to produce organic compounds. Other organisms, like bacteria and fungus, obtain energy by the disintegration of the molecular structures of other organisms.
Ecology applies chemistry because metabolic processes and physiology of biological systems involve chemical reactions. Ecology is the study of the ways organisms (biotic factors) and their environments (abiotic factors) interact. Biogeochemical cycles and interaction of biotic and abiotic elements of the environment are essential to understanding ecology.
Ecology is connected with geology because the distribution of the biomes depends on the geological structure and composition of the Earth's surface. Geography is important to ecology because of living beings are distributed on Earth following specific patterns.
Mathematics is a central science to Ecology to make calculations, statistics, projections and extrapolations of the number and distribution of species, amount of biomass, population growth, extension of communities, biodiversity, incoming energy, outgoing energy, etc. Additionally, ecologists use mathematics to quantify the environmental conditions that have a direct or indirect influence on the living beings inhabiting a given biome.
Climatology and meteorology are disciplines which help ecologists to understand how the variations of climatic conditions affect the regional biodiversity. Climatology and meteorology help Ecologists to identify the effects of regional and global climate changes on the probabilities of survival of individuals, populations and communities inhabiting a certain geographic locality, and how the regional climate relates with the distribution of living beings on Earth.
When we talk about interactions, we can look at adaptation and evolution of individual populations/species, successional changes in environment types (from say plain to forest over time), changes in biodiversity and overall ecosystem health/resilience. Biodiversity is a corollary of evolution, which describes the ability of a species to survive and reproduce.

So ecologists are a jack (or jane) of all the sciences. They need to see larger patterns and deal with the complexity of all the variables and interactions within an ecosystem. In addition to a broad foundation across the natural sciences, an ecologist also needs to understand the interrelated nature of environmental and social systems of humans. Generally scientists specialize to become experts in an area. Sometimes I think it might be a flaw in academia because specialization tends to narrow one’s perspective. Broadening one’s perspective helps to see the larger picture, to see patterns and new connections or relationships.

The study of ecology is important for nature conservation and resource management (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, etc.), and ultimately to the creation of a stable and egalitarian society with a strong economy; disease, poverty, inequality, and exploitation result from degraded environments and resource shortages. The study of ecology is the study of the workings of our home and affects the survival of every species on the planet, including home sapiens.