Ironically four years after we successfully obliterated nearly two percent of the US population during our Civil War, a word now famous for emphasizing the importance of maintaining both interspecific and intraspecific biodiversity made its first appearance in the lexicon of biologists. In 1866, Ernst Haeckel—a German zoologist and master of many other scientific and artistic endeavors—introduced the concept of ecology onto the world scene.
While Haeckel is officially credited with coining the term, we owe the origin of the word to the ancient Greeks. In fact, understanding the word is most easily accomplished by looking at its Greek roots—oikos meaning house and logiameaning study. So—to best understand the word ecology—envision observing everything that is going on in your own house, including everything from the interactions of your family with each other to how each family member is using everything in the house. This visualization of your own household will give you a good handle on the meaning of ecology.
Now apply the same types of interactions that are taking place in your own home to what is happening in each ecosystem in the natural world. Ecology is about the ongoing relationships that are continuously taking place among all the living things and their associated non-living elements found in each of the earth’s ecosystems.
For example, if a bird captures and eats a worm, that’s an ecological interaction. If the bird—in turn—gets captured and eaten by a fox, that’s another ecological interaction. Then when the fox stops by a pond to wash his meal down with a cool drink of water that’s still another ecological interaction. Taken collectively, all the ecological interactions occurring in all the ecosystems on Earth form the science of ecology—the term Dr. Haeckel officially introduced to the world so long ago.
Why is this so important to know? The study of ecology has become the basis for analyzing and evaluating everything that is going on in the natural world—including the influence of humans, now popularly known as anthropogenic effects. By looking at how our activities are affecting individual ecosystems—with an emphasis on increases or decreases in biodiversity (the number of different species of organisms living in an ecosystem or ecosystems)—we gain an understanding of how and why our behaviors need to be modified.
This is of critical importance today because if we take a hard, honest look at the Earth’s ecology, we’ll quickly see that what we’re doing does not paint a pretty picture. Ice sheets melting, oceans warming, coral reefs dying, species going extinct—Dr. Haeckel gave us the tool for diagnosing the diseases, now we just have to take our medicines and get them all cured!
Text excerpted from book: “PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change” written by Budd Titlow and Mariah Tinger, published by Prometheus Books.
Author’s bio: For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. “PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change”, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — “COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America” — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.