• As a branch of biology, Ecology is the study of the relationships of living organisms with the abiotic (physico-chemical factors) and biotic components (other species) of their environment.
  • It is concerned with four levels of biological organisation-organisms, populations, communities and biomes. Temperature, light, water and soil are the most important physical factors of the environment to which the organisms are adapted in various ways.
  • Maintenance of a constant internal environment (homeostasis) by the organisms contributes to optimal performance, but only some organisms (regulators) are capable of homeostasis in the face of changing external environment.
  • Others either partially regulate their internal environment or simply conform. A few other species have evolved adaptations to avoid unfavourable conditions in space (migration) or in time (aestivation, hibernation, and diapause).
  • Evolutionary changes through natural selection take place at the population level and hence, population ecology is an important area of ecology. A population is a group of individuals of a given species sharing or competing for similar resources in a defined geographical area.
  • Populations have attributes that individual organisms do not- birth rates and death rates, sex ratio and age distribution.
  • The proportion of different age groups of males and females in a population is often presented graphically as age pyramid; its shape indicates whether a population is stationary, growing or declining. Ecological effects of any factors on a population are generally reflected in its size (population density), which may be expressed in different ways (numbers, biomass, per cent cover, etc.,) depending on the species.
  • Populations grow through births and immigration and decline through deaths and emigration. When resources are unlimited, the growth is usually exponential but when resources become progressively limiting, the growth pattern turns logistic. In either case, growth is ultimately limited by the carrying capacity of the environment.
  • The intrinsic rate of natural increase (r) is a measure of the inherent potential of a population to grow. In nature populations of different species in a habitat do not live in isolation but interact in many ways.
  • Depending on the outcome, these interactions between two species are classified as competition (both species suffer), predation and parasitism (one benefits and the other suffers), commensalism (one benefits and the other is unaffected), amensalism (one is harmed, other unaffected) and mutualism (both species benefit).
  • Predation is a very important process through which trophic energy transfer is facilitated and some predators help in controlling their prey populations. Plants have evolved diverse morphological and chemical defenses against herbivory.
  • In competition, it is presumed that the superior competitor eliminates the inferior one (the Competitive Exclusion Principle), but many closely related species have evolved various mechanisms which facilitate their co-existence.
  • Some of the most fascinating cases of mutualism in nature are seen in plant-pollinator interactions.

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