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  • Writer's pictureGrant Reed

About Ecology

Updated: May 27, 2022

Ecology is the study of interactions between organism and their relationship to their surroundings and the processes taking place during the interactions.

Ecology is a Greek word which, literally translated, means “the study of the house” referring to the study of our earth. The term “ecology” was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel . Modern ecology transformed into a more rigorous science in the late 19th century. The study helps, amongst other things, determine the influence that man is having on the environment and effective ways of keeping a balance in the eco systems

Adaptation, biodiversity, distribution and natural selection of organisms are some of the more important concepts in the study of ecology.

Ecosystem is the unit or area under study in ecology.  The environment has eco-systems that are constantly changing the way in which they operate within given physical conditions.  The unit is partially self-sustaining and can be of any size or description: a fallen tree, a river, a game reserve, a biome, a continent or the World. Small ecosystems exist within larger ecosystems. All ecosystems have both biotic and abiotic components. They are relatively stable provided the conditions are not substantially altered.

Producers and Consumers

Autotrophs are plants that produce their own food; they are not dependent on other plants or animals but consume abiotic substances for their survival and reproduction.

Heterotrophs are plants and animals that rely on other plants and/or animals to sustain them. The word “vore” means to eat or devour.  What precedes “…vore” describes what the animal eats e.g. herbivores eat vegetation. There are three levels of heterotrophs namely primary, secondary and tertiary consumers.

Herbivores eat vegetation only:

  • Browsers eat leaves, fruit, seeds and the tips of branches of trees and shrubs. They seldom feed on grass. There are various kinds of browsers such as leaf eaters or fruit eaters.  Examples of browsers are kudu, eland and giraffe.

  • Grazers feed on grass. Grazers include bulk grazers or selective bite grazers. Examples of grazers are zebra, buffalo, tsessebe and wildebeest

Omnivores consume both vegetation and the flesh of animals.  These include humans, baboons and warthogs.

Carnivores consume only meat. These include cats, most dogs, crocodiles and most snakes.  This does not mean that they belong to the order “Carnivora”. Only mammals with specialized cheek teeth, for cutting meat, belong to “Carnivora”.

Insectivores consume only insects.  These include shrews, pangolins, aardvarks, bat eared foxes and aardwolfs.

Detritivores feed exclusively on dead and/or decomposing matter. These include termites, dung beetles, carrion beetles and many bacteria.

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