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  Ecology (Greek, ‘study of the home’) is the study of how organisms relate to their environment and to each other in the biological communities of which all living organisms are a part. As such, ecology is a major division of biology and also has relevance to all fields of the life sciences as all living systems are meaningless unless studied in the context of their environment. The ecologist looks at whole organisms and their organization into communities.

Prior to the 19th century, most scientific study had been concerned with individual organisms, viewed in isolation from their natural environment. Classifications of species sometimes referred to typical habitats, but it was investigations of the geographical distribution of plant types according to climate which initiated the first scientific study of ecology. The term ecology was coined in 1866 by Ernst Haeckel (1834 - 1919) after , Charles Darwin\'s (1809 - 1882) publication of Origin of Species in 1859 stimulated great interest in the study of organisms in relation to their environment. Interest in ecology was initially strongest among botanists, but 20th-century biology has been permeated by ecology at all levels and has, incidentally, served to unite seemingly disparate fields.

Modern ecology has not abandoned the field study as the source of data, but the advent of the computer brought new possibilities to ecological modelling, enabling complex data to be collated and used to support the extrapolation of trends as a means to predict the consequences of environmental changes. Computer simulations of the behaviour of ecological processes such as the greenhouse effect and of more localized systems, such as polluted rivers, have enabled reasonably accurate forecasts to be made. The ecologist plays a central role in applied biology and in the monitoring of the effects of pollution, though it must be borne in mind that the systems under study are almost infinitely complex and therefore inherently unpredictable. Ecology has also provided scientific weight to those who promote environmental conservation and, from the 1960s onwards has been one of the most politically important areas of science. RB

See also community; ecosystem, population biology; competition.Further reading Paul Colinvaux, Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare; , Joseph Moran, Introduction to Environmental Science.



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