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The Difference between Ecology and the Environment

People think ecology and the environment are the same thing. They aren’t, but with all the emphasis on saving our planet it is easy to see how these terms can get mixed up.

First of all, ecology is the relationship of animals and plants to their surroundings which includes carbon dioxide, light and heat and the sustenance that comes from the atmosphere.  Another kind of surrounding is biological and this includes the study of the same animal or plant in context with other animals and plants.

So much is demanded of the person who studies this that a host of scientific fields are tapped to get an understanding of ecology.  For example, hydrology, physics, and geology are included in study of the ecology.  Also, climatology, chemistry and soil analysis.  While the word “environment” is often mistaken for ecology, one does have an impact on the other.

Ecology as a term was coined by Ernst Heinrich Haeckel in Germany in 1866.  Its derivatives combine Oikos, or household which has the same root as economics.   The literal translation is economy of nature.

The Evolution Scientist Charles Darwin is the Father of Modern Ecology.  Because he advanced the theory of Survival of the Fittest, he believed natural selection carries forth each species.  The weak give way to the strong, and the strong give way to the stronger and so forth.

Among the students of plant life, Alexander von Humboldt is considered a leader in the study of how vegetation is distributed.  An ecosystem is created by balancing all the forces of nature.  When one aspect is depleted, it sets off a chain reaction of deterioration in other ways.

Consider a drought stricken area.  The vegetation is deprived of moisture content and susceptible to fire.  All it takes is a lightning strike in the woods or a discarded cigarette to set off a chain reaction of disaster.  All the ecosystems are affected.  Trees and brush are burned and destroyed, nests for birds and rodents are displaced.  It seems everything is destroyed permanently.

But within a few months a different ecosystem grabs hold.  Primitive vegetation that has adapted to modern times sprouts up; plants like moss and ferns, life forms dating to prehistoric times.  Animals move in to feed off the new vegetation and the decomposed plant material that burned has fertilized the soil making conditions ripe for explosive new growth and the rebirth of the forest once again.

This is part of what is called biogeochemical cycles, or nutrient cycles.  Plants store the nutrients from decomposing matter in their tissues.   The material comes from a number of sources.  If it isn’t in the static earth material, it is blown in with dust, rain and in weathered rocks.

One of the earliest lessons in ecology comes in the elementary school classroom.  Children learn the necessity of crop rotation.  If the farmer keeps planting corn in the same field year after year, and he expects the corn to grow and yield the same nutrients, he must give the field a break from demanding the nutrients.  At the very least, he must import nutrients in the form of fertilizer.

Other crops get planted that take a different toll on the land, like barley.  Once the soil has recovered from the loss of particular chemical ingredients it can begin to produce vegetables with other nutrients.

One of the threats to nature is acid rain.  Pollution produced in the Midwest is carried with the clouds to produce a sulfuric and nitric acid rainfall over the northeastern states, threatening the fragile ecology and the environment and prompting states to look at their polluting ways.

Here is an environmental thought that you might never have had before.  For what ever good they might do, the mighty little ant is getting some respect.  There are those that think that ants are a nuisance, as uninvited guests at a picnic, and there are those that feel that the little critters get no respect.
For those of you that want to save the ants, visit:
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