Ecology is the study of nature and the environment.  Everything is connected - plants and animals, sun and rain.  In this unit, we will be looking at the relationships between various components of the environment.

Over the course of this unit, we will go outside a few times.  Students should be prepared for that and dress appropriately - although this will be weather-permitting, of course.  Students should understand that poor behavior or failure to follow directions in the classroom may result in them having to remain inside and miss the activity.  Make-up activities will be offered, when appropriate.

One of the major ideas in Ecology is that all parts of the environment are connected.  Every living thing must interact with other living things to survive.  Nonliving things (abiotic factors)  affect the living things (biotic factors).

Terms to Know

  • Ecology - The study of the environment and all of the things that interact in it.
  • Abiotic Factors - The things in an environment that are nonliving (never were living).
  • Biotic Factors - The things in an environment that are or were living.
  • Environment - An organisms's surroundings, including all the things and conditions in it.
  • Habitat - The place where an organism lives.
  • Niche - The "role" an organism plays in its habitat.  (How it uses/is used by other things in the habitat.)
  • Organism - A complete living thing.
  • Population - All of one type of living thing in an area.
  • Community - All of the populations in an area.  (All of the living things, of all kinds, in an area.)
  • Ecosystem - All of the living and nonliving things that interact in an area.
  • Biosphere - All of the livable space on the Earth.
  • Mutualism (+/+) - A relationship where both sides benefit.  
    • (i.e. - A bee and a flower.  The bee gets food, the flower gets pollinated.)
  • Commensalism (+/o) - A relationship where one side benefits and the other is not harmed.  
    • (i.e. - A bird and a tree.  The bird gets a home, the tree is not harmed.)
  • Parasitism (+/-) - A relationship where one side benefits and the other is harmed.  
    • (i.e. - A mosquito and a human.  The mosquito gets a meal, the human gets an itchy bite - and possibly diseases!) 
  • Food Chain - A diagram that shows one set of relationships in an ecosystem.
  • Food Web - A diagram that shows many sets of relationships in an ecosystem.
  • Consumer - An organism that must take in food from its environment.
  • Producer - An organism that makes its own food inside of its body.
  • Herbivore - An animal that eats plants.
  • Carnivore - An animal that eats other animals.
  • Omnivore - An animal that eats both plants and animals.
  • Predator - An animal that kills and eats another animal.
  • Prey - An animal that is killed and eaten by a predator.
  • Decomposer - An organism that breaks down dead material, turning it back into soil.
  • Scavenger - An organism that eats animals that were already dead. 

The Predator Effect
Predators help to stabilize prey populations, so they don't get out of control.

Succession is the change in an environment over a period of time.  For example, if we stopped mowing the grass on the soccer field, what would happen?  The grass would get long, and other weeds would move in.  In a year or two, we would start getting tall grasses and weeds like goldenrod and milkweed.  A few years later, woody shrubs would start to show up.  Young trees would grow.  A few decades later, the soccer field would be a forest.

Carrying Capacity is the number of living things that a given area can support.

Invasive Species are species that are not native to a certain area; they were brought in from someplace else.  Invasive species can cause problems in an ecosystem because they have no natural predators in their new habitat, so they quickly overpopulate and crowd out the native species.  Examples include rock bass, asian longhorned beetle, purple loosetrife, and variable milfoil.  The NH guide to Upland Invasive Species can be found here.

A biome is a region with a certain climate (the average weather over a long time) and a certain set of organisms that live there.
An ecotone is the place where two biomes blend together.

There are six major types of biomes in the world, and many smaller, more specific types.  The six major types are:
1. Tropical Rain Forest
    - warm temperatures & lots of rain (every day) all year long
    - tall trees, with many types of animals that live in them
2. Temperate Forest
    - separate seasons (temp. changes over the course of a year)
    - rain varies at different times of the year
    - deciduous (broadleaf) and coniferous (evergreen) trees
3. Desert
    - hot during the day, cool/cold at night
    - very little rain
    - organisms store water (i.e. - cactus)
4. Tundra
    - cold most of the year
    - very little rain
    - lichens are very common
    - 2 types:
       - arctic tundra - in the far northern parts of the world (Alaska)
       - alpine tundra - on mountains, above the tree line
            - tree line: no trees grow above this point on the mountain
5. Grassland
    - more rain than deserts, less than forests
    - few trees, mostly grass grows here
6. Aquatic Environments
    - can be saltwater or freshwater
    - the types of organisms that you find depends on the
      temperature, depth, salt, etc.