As a relatively new term, coined only in 1873, “ecology” seems to be popping up in articles, discussions and news items everywhere nowadays—and with good reason. Our lives could depend on it.
Derived from the Greek words “öko” for home or habitat and “logie” for study, ecology is a science and branch of biology that deals with how organisms interact in a natural environment (ecosystem) and with each other.
This includes complex relationships and intricate systems that determine life on this planet, whether it is in a marine, jungle, forest or desert biome.
An example of the beautiful complexity of the environmental effects of a particular organism can be seen in how herds of wild elephants contribute to the shaping of a jungle ecosystem.
The animals’ annual migrations to other areas have made natural paths for other smaller animals to follow. In the process, their selective diet of edible flora is spread to more remote areas through the seeds in their excrement. In this way, they naturally replenish their food source for the next season as well as propagating more plants in the process.
On the other hand, the poaching of these elephants could result in a massive negative effect on forest life. The elimination of the species would break the ancient cycle, disrupting the normal workings of the ecosystem and triggering a fatal domino effect among other species within the environment.
The dawn of the 21st century has brought about more human-oriented studies. In this respect, ecology aims to identify manmade activities that are detrimental to our biosphere while providing solutions and ways to instigate positive change.
Only now are we discovering that ever since the Industrial Age, manmade synthetic wastes have been having an adverse effect on the environment. Fumes, toxic waste and deforestation are byproducts and effects of mechanized growth.
When multiplied a thousand fold, that thoughtlessly discarded Styrofoam box from a fast-food restaurant clogs sewers in locations around the world. Other examples of our negative impact on our surroundings abound, not the least of which is climate change.
Now ecology is reminding us that humans, just like all other life forms, rely on this Earth—the only home we have—for everything, from food and water to shelter. We are part of interdependent natural systems so dynamic that even a tiny perturbation can upset everything. Ecology is making our role and responsibility ever more clear, globally as well as locally.
Alfablue, April 2013