Introduction To Ecology

Course CodeBEN101
Fee CodeS1
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

START YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL AND LIFE SCIENCES CAREER HERE!

Learn about ecology and its fascinating interrelationship between biology, earth science and its living and non-living inhabitants. Take the first step towards understanding about life processes and how their energy creates movement through living communities whilst distributing biodiversity throughout the ecosystem in the context of the environment.

As part of human science, the study of ecology plays an important role in conservation, wetland and natural resource management, forestry, agriculture and fisheries, as well as climatological, human and urban interactions in today’s changing world.

Lesson Structure

There are 7 lessons in this course:

  1. Ecosystems and Populations
    • Ecology
    • Types of Ecology: Behavioural Ecology, Population Ecology, Community Ecology and Ecosystem Ecology
    • Biomes
    • Ecosystems (Energy and Nutrients)
    • The Food Web: Grazing Web, Detrital Web, Energy Flow and Imbalances
    • Populations: Diversity, Habitat, Niche, and Growth Rates
    • Interactions in the Community: Competition, Predation, Co-evolution, Succession and Climax Communities
  2. The Development of Life
    • Lifespan: Average Lifespan, Evolutionary Considerations on Lifespan and Theories on the Limits of Lifespan
    • Evolution: Introduction, What Evolution Means, Evidence of Organic Evolution, The Anatomical Argument, The Physiological Argument, The Paleontological Argument, The Embryological Argument, Steps in Organic Evolution, Multicellular Organisms, The Evolution of Sex, Differentiation and Integration
    • The origin of Vertebrates: The Emergence of Man, Factors in Organic Evolution, Germ Cells and Variations, Natural Selection, Population Genetics, The Synthetic Theory, Speciation, Genetic Drift, Trans-specific Evolution, Present Day Evolutionary Debate, Human Evolution and Evolutionary Patterns
  3. Animals, Parasites and Endangered Species
    • Animals in the Ecosystem: Animals in the Human Community
    • Animals
    • Phylum and Classes of the Animal Kingdom: Vertebrates with Backbones, Vertebrates without Backbones, Protozoa, Origins and Relationships, Body Organisation, The Gut, Symmetry, Protosomia, Coelom and Deuterostomia
    • Summary of Phyla: The Parazoa, The Mesozoa, The Radiata, Phylum Coelenterata and Phylum Ctenophora
    • The Acoelomate Bilateria: Phylum Platyhelminthes, Phylum Nemertina
    • The Pseudocoelomates: Phylum Nematoda, Phylum Gastrotricha, Phylum Nematomorpha, Phylum Acanthocephala, Phylum Kinorhyncha, Phylum Rotifera, Phylum Priapulida, Phylum Entoprocta and Phylum Lucifera
    • Eucoelomates (The Tentaculata): Phylum Phoronida, Phylum Ectoprocta and Phylum Brachiopoda
    • Eucoelomates (The Trochozoa): Phylum Annelida, Phylum Sipuncula, Phylum Mollusca, Phylum Arthropoda
    • Eucoelomates (The Deuterostomia): Phylum Chaetognatha, Phylum Echinodermata, Phylum Hemichordata and Phylum Chordata
    • Parasites: Human Parasites and Parasitic Plants
    • Endangered Species: The Causes of Extinction and Efforts for Preservation
    • Case Study (Threatened Animal Species in Queensland, Australia): Birds, Mammals, Fish, Frogs, Butterflies and Reptiles
  4. Fungi, Tundra, Rainforests and Marshlands
    • Fungi: Introduction, Types of Fungi, The Structure of Fungi, The Reproduction of Fungi, The Physiology of Fungus, Poisoning by Fungi, The Ecology of Fungus, The Uses of Fungi, The Classification of Fungi (Oomycota, Zygomycota, Ascomycota)
    • Tundra: Introduction, The Climate and Land Formation, Plant Life on the Tundra
    • Rainforests: The Ecology, The Vegetation, Creatures of the Rainforest, The Canopy, The Under-storey, The Forest Floor and Clearing the Rainforest
    • Marshland: Introduction, Freshwater Marshes and Saltwater Marshes
  5. Mountains, Rivers and Deserts
    • Mountains: The Formation of Mountains, The Importance of Mountains, Volcanoes and Erosion
    • Rivers: The Formation of Rivers, Dams (Ponds), River Catchments, Urban Catchments, How can we clean up Stormwater
    • Reducing Pollutants
    • Sedimentation
    • Nutrients
    • Other Toxicants
    • Damming of Rivers
    • Deserts: Wind Systems, Land Formation, Plant Adaptations to the Desert, Animal Adaptations to the Desert, Human Impacts on Deserts, The Spreading Deserts
  6. Shallow Waters
    • Estuaries
    • Major Natural Processes Occurring in Coastal Environments: Climatological, Physical, Biological and Mixing Processes; Factors Influencing Estuaries; The Estuary as a Nursery; Estuaries and People
    • Rocky Shores: Threats to Rocky Shores and What Individuals Can Do
    • Sandy Shores: Threats to the Sandy Shore
    • Coral Reefs: Corals, The Composition of Coral Reefs
    • Types of Coral Reefs: Fringing Reefs, Barrier Reefs and Atolls
    • The Origin of Coral Reefs: Flora and Fauna on Atolls; Petroleum
  7. Ecological Problems
    • The Greenhouse Effect
    • Global Warming: Difference Between Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming, Climate Change, A Growing Awareness, Carbon Dioxide
    • International Efforts to Combat Climate Change: IPCC, UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, COP15 and The World Watch Institute
    • The Actual and Potential Effects: Global Temperature Rise, Sea Level Rise, Impacts on Weather Systems
    • Greenhouse Gases (GHG): Water Vapour, Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Fluorocarbons
    • Ozone: The Ozone Layer, The Causes of Ozone Depletion, Aerosols, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, Foam and Phasing out CFCs
    • The Effects of Ozone Depletion: Skin Cancers, Immune System Response, Impacts on Crops and Forests and Impacts on Marine Life
    • Poisons: Poisons in the Home and Other Household Poisons
    • Poisons on the Farm: Pesticides, Characteristics of Pesticides and Summary of Pesticides
    • Environmental and Health Impacts of Pesticides: Soil, Water Air Vegetation, Wildlife, Effects of Chemicals on Humans and Animals, Acute Poisoning, Chronic Poisoning and Different Types of Effects
    • Waste Material: Rubbish Dumps or Tips, Recycling, Plastics, Gas from Landfills and Domestic Waste

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

Aims

  • To identify the components of an ecosystem and how they interact.
  • Discuss the basis of the Theory of Evolution and those elements of science which influenced the theory.
  • To discuss the existence of animals in the ecosystem.
  • To discuss the presence of plant life in a range of ecological situations
  • To discuss the ecological features of mountains, rivers and deserts.
  • To discuss the ecological features of shallow water regions and coral seas.
  • To discuss the ecological implications of human activities on the environment.

What You Will Do

  • Observe an ecosystem in your local area. Identify the inhabitants of the ecosystem and their location in the food web of that system.
  • Compare the similarities and differences between the detrital web and the grazing web
  • Discuss what scientific discoveries the Theory of Evolution, both past and present, is based on.
  • List and explain the four arguments of evolution.
  • Define Natural Selection.
  • Discuss how genetics are related to evolution.
  • Go to an ecological environment (as natural and un-human interfered as possible) and observe the plants and relationships that exist.
  • Visit a local stream or river. Observe the condition of the stream, particularly the presence of indigenous vegetation and its affect on stream bank condition. Also look for evidence of human activity on the condition of the stream or river
  • Discuss, in your own words, the theories which have been advanced in the past regarding the formation of coral reefs.

WHAT IS ECOLOGY

ECOSYSTEMS

The word “ecosystem” was coined by Sir Arthur George Tansley in 1935. He used the word to stress the concept of each habitat as an integrated whole. A system is a collection of interdependent parts that function as a unit and involve inputs and outputs.

The major parts of an ecosystem are:

  • Producers - Green plants
  • Consumers - Herbivores and carnivores
  • Decomposers - Fungi and bacteria
  • Abiotic - Non living components, including dead organic matter and soil and water nutrients.

There are elements that need to be put into the ecosystem in order for it to work. The ecosystem also contributes to the natural environment overall. Inputs and outputs of an ecosystem include:

Inputs

  • Solar energy
  • Water
  • Oxygen
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Nitrogen
  • Other elements and compounds

Outputs

  • Heat from respiration
  • Water
  • Oxygen
  • Carbon Dioxide

TYPES OF ECOLOGY

Behavioural Ecology

Behavioural ecology looks at how behaviour effects the survival, reproduction and growth of a species. The way individuals of a species behave can affect the survival of a population. Zoologist/Ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen (1963) addressed the issue of “why” animals behave in certain ways by asking four questions:

  • Function – How do prey and patch choice contribute to the survival of an animal and its offspring?
  • Causation – What causes an animal to select a particular site? This can include abundance of prey, vegetation cover and the activity of other animals in the area (competition).
  • Development – How does the genetic disposition of the animal affect its behaviour?
  • Evolutionary History (Phylogeny) – How did a particular animal adapt to occupy a particular ecological niche (position of a species within its ecosystem)?

An example of behavioural ecology would be when certain species group together in herds, they lessen their individual chance of predation. Ecologists would address the four aspects above to understand why the species behaved in this way.

Population Ecology

Populations are groups of individuals of the same species, all of which can interbreed occupying a defined area. Population ecology examines dynamics such as how these populations grow, interact and how they are limited by the resources around them by competition and by predation. Population ecology is central in the role of wildlife managers and examines such factors as birth rate (fecundity), death rate (mortality), age structure and immigration of new individuals into the population (recruitment).

Community Ecology

Community ecology examines how different species interact with each other and their environment within a specific geographic area (or community). It looks at why some environments support many species where others don’t.

Community ecology takes factors such as demography, distribution, abundance and interactions between populations into consideration. The interactions between different species are called interspecific interactions. An example of an interspecific interaction might be a Barn Owl preying upon a field vole living in the same community.

Ecosystem Ecology

Ecosystem ecology looks at how energy and nutrients flow through communities and the effects that energy and nutrients have on those communities. It looks at trophic (feeding) levels and how solar energy flows from plants to herbivores, carnivores and detrivores.

 

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  Bob James

Horticulturalist, Agriculturalist, Environmental consultant, Businessman and Professional Writer. Over 40 years in industry, Bob has held a wide variety of senior positions in both government and private enterprise. Bob has a Dip. Animal Husb, B.App.Sc., Grad.Dip.Mgt, PDC
  Dr Robert Browne

Zoologist, Environmental Scientist and Sustainability, science based consultancy with biotechnology corporations. Work focused on conservation and sustainability. Robert has published work in the fields of nutrition, pathology, larval growth and development, husbandry, thermo-biology, reproduction technologies, and facility design.Robert has B.Sc., Ph, D.
  Marie Beerman

Marie has over 7 years in horticulture and education in both Australia and Germany. Marie has been a co author of several ebooks in recent years, including "Roses" and "Climbing Plants". Marie's qualifications include B. Sc., M.Hort. Dip. Bus. Cert. Ldscp.
  Rosemary Davies

Leading horticultural expert in Australia. Rosemary trained in Horticultural Applied Science at Melbourne University. Initially she worked with Agriculture Victoria as an extension officer, taught horticulture students, worked on radio with ABC radio (clocking up over 24 years as a presenter of garden talkback programs, initially the only woman presenter on gardening in Victoria) and she simultaneously developed a career as a writer. She then studied Education and Training, teaching TAFE apprentices and developing curriculum for TAFE, before taking up an offer as a full time columnist with the Herald and Weekly Times and its magazine department after a number of years as columnist with the Age. She has worked for a number of companies in writing and publications, PR community education and management and has led several tours to Europe. In 1999 Rosemary was BPW Bendigo Business Woman of the Year and is one of the founders and the Patron, of the Friends of the Bendigo Botanic gardens. She has completed her 6th book this year and is working on concepts for several others. Rosemary has a B Ed, BSc Hort, Dip Advertising & Marketing
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