THE HISTORY OF ECOLOGY
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Man has always needed understand the environment which surrounds it ; especially during the whole period preceding the industrial Revolution, when the majority of the population lived in the rural world, understanding the interactions organisms among themselves and with their surroundings could make a big difference in people's lives.
We all know superstitions and sayings that try to explain climate, life cycles and a long etcetera. However, if we want to know the relationships that exist in the natural world, we will have to pay attention to science, and in particular to ecology. We offer you the opportunity to learn more about the history of ecology.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF ECOLOGY: ITS FORWARDERS
We start by talking about the historical context of ecology and the most relevant precursors. The history of ecology begins with the first civilizations and the first philosophers.
The philosophers Hippocrates and Aristotle laid the foundation for modern biology, with Hippocrates focusing more on medical issues and Aristotle on natural history.
Aristotle was concerned with describing and classifying a huge number of living organisms, including animals and plants, and also tried to explain other phenomena such as fertilization, embryo development, the soul (or what which gives life to living beings) or the origin of life.
The body of knowledge published by Aristotle was not only extremely large, but it also laid the foundation for the systematic study of living things and nature.
WHAT IS ECOLOGY - CONCEPT AND DEFINITION
The concept of "ecology" derives etymologically from the Greek oikos (house) and logos (science, study). It is surprising that the term refers to "the study of our home", understanding that nature is our home and that we are part of it.
It was created by the scholar Ernst Haeckel in 1869, who understood ecology as the study of the relationship of living things with the environment around them. Today the term has been broadened. Thus, the definition of ecology encompasses not only the relationships that living beings establish with their environment, but also the relationships that they forge among themselves.
THE ORIGIN OF ECOLOGY: THE EARLY SCIENTIFIC STUDIES
We present below the origin of ecology through the contributions of some important authors to the body of ecological knowledge, not so much from the point of view of philosophy, but through a more systematic study:
- Buffon (1756): considers that populations of human beings and other living beings, such as animals or plants, are subject to the same phenomena.
- Alexander von Humboldt (1800-1804): was a very versatile scholar, who in addition to studying the natural world, was engaged in geology and geography. During these years, he traveled a large part of Latin America, collecting a lot of information about its flora, fauna, geology, etc.
- Malthus (1803): Although Malthus did not initially attempt to explain the natural world, his theories had a profound impact on the knowledge of populations. Malthus proposed that the resources of a given space increase arithmetically, while the population of all living things has the potential to grow exponentially. There is therefore necessarily an imbalance between resources and populations. This concept also contributed to the formation of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
- Forbes (1844): described the distribution of animals in European coastal waters, warning that certain patterns of their distribution were due to environmental characteristics.
- Darwin (1859): The theory of evolution by natural selection had a profound impact on the understanding of population dynamics, which came to be understood as changing entities and not as static agents.
TYPES OF ECOLOGY
Currently, ecology deals with many topics related to the natural world, and his studies are published in leading scientific journals, including Nature and Science. Below are some of the most common types of ecology, depending on the topic they cover:
- Microbial ecology - focused on relationships between microscopic organisms.
- Urban ecology and rural ecology: she focused on studying the relationships established in these two types of populations.
- Botanical ecology: focused on the study of the relationships of plants and fungi with each other and with their environment.
- Paleoecology: it seeks to explain the ecosystems of periods prior to ours, which is a very difficult task. If you're interested in the topic, we recommend you read Stephen Jay Gould's "The Wonderful Life."
Ecology deals with many other important subjects and is linked to many other sciences: from population genetics to the study of matter and energy flows, as well as, to cite another example, from the classification of ecosystems to the study of the services they can provide us. Ecology is a multidisciplinary science that covers many subjects related to nature.