Introductory Sources in Ecology

Paul A. Keddy

in Ecology

ISBN: 9780199830060
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:
Introductory Sources in Ecology

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  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Plant Ecology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences


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The word “ecology” comes from the Greek word oikos, meaning “house,” and refers to the study of the living systems that surround humans, or more generally, our home in what is rather a thin layer of atmosphere and water covering Earth. It has also been called “scientific natural history.” The domain of ecology extends from the study of individual physiologies, through populations, and up to entire ecosystems and the biosphere as a whole. Overall, one can say that the history of ecology really begins in the 1700s, and that the period of most rapid development was the late 20th century. That is not to say that earlier writers did not refer to nature. Ancient texts mention plants, animals, and natural events such as floods. One could try to make the case that these should be called “ecology.” But there is an important distinction between merely describing a bird or a flood and making conscious efforts to measure and determine causation. Serious and systematic study of wild species is rather recent in human affairs. Many of the first accounts were of species or regions encountered by explorers. From this emerged reports of natural phenomena (which one might call “natural history”) and attempts to systematize such observations and seek cause-and-effect relationships among them (which one might call “ecology”). Within the latter it is probably useful to distinguish between compendia dealing with practical issues (agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing) and later work in which the primary goal is understanding and predicting rather than merely maximizing exploitation rates. Overall, natural history and ecology have shared roots, but they differ in emphasis: the former emphasizes the joy of fractal detail, while the latter searches for general, testable principles. For convenience, one can divide the popular and introductory literature on modern ecology into nine categories, here titled General Overviews, Classic Books, Perspectives: Context, Controversy, Tactics, Strategies, Biographies, Nature Observation, Historical Foundations, Travelogues, Conservation, and Popular Science. The order of the final seven is quite arbitrary, as are the categories. A single book like Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle (Darwin 1839, cited under Travelogues) or Hornaday’s Our Vanishing Wild Life (Hornaday 1913, cited under Conservation) might be assigned to any one of several categories. Finally, everyone reading further here should obtain several guides to the natural history of his or her own ecological region. Finding these regional guides, and reading them, remains essential, even though such accounts are too geographically specific to appear here.

Article.  7435 words. 

Subjects: Applied Ecology (Environmental Science) ; Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Ecology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences

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