Sie sind auf Seite 1von 81

Ecology - Basics


Ecology investigates the interactions among organisms and between organisms and their environment.

Hierarchy of Ecology

Organism level studies focus on individuals.

Physiological or behavioral ecology

Population level studies examine groups of conspecific organisms living in a particular area.

Hierarchy of Ecology

Community level studies investigate interactions between the populations of various species in an area.
Species diversity - # of different species Interactions predation, parasitism, competition, symbiotic associations.

Ecosystem level studies examine how a community interacts with the physical environment.

Environment and Niche

An animals environment includes all of the conditions that affects survival and reproduction.
Abiotic factors (nonliving) soil, air, water, sunlight, temperature, pH etc. Biotic factors (living) food items, predators, parasites, competitors, mates, hosts etc.

Environment and Niche

Environmental factors that are directly utilized by an animal are resources.

Space (nonexpendable) Food (expendable)

Environment and Niche

An animals habitat is the space where it lives.

Size is variable
Rotten log is a habitat for carpenter ants. Forest & adjacent meadow is a habitat for deer.

Environment and Niche

The habitat must meet the requirements for life.

Temp, salinity, pH etc. The unique multidimensional relationship of a species with its environment is its niche.

Environment and Niche

Generalists can withstand a variety of environmental conditions. Specialists can only tolerate a narrow range.

Environment and Niche

The fundamental niche describes the total potential role that an organism could fill under ideal circumstances. The realized niche describes the actual role an organism fills.

Subset of the fundamental niche. Affected by competition

Population Ecology

Population ecology is the study of populations in relation to environment, including environmental influences on population density and distribution, age structure, and variations in population size.


A population is a reproductively interactive group of animals of a single species.

A few individuals may migrate between populations.

Adds gene flow Prevents speciation.

Numerous small populations may be connected in this way.


Life Tables

A life table is an age-specific summary of the survival pattern of a population.

Life tables usually follow the fate of a cohort a group of individuals of the same age from birth until all have died.

Survivorship Curves

A survivorship curve is a graphic way of representing the data in a life table. The survivorship curve for Beldings ground squirrels shows that the death rate is relatively constant.

Survivorship Curves

Survivorship curves can be classified into three general types

Type I high survival early in life indicates parental care of fewer offspring. Type II constant death rate over life span Type III drops sharply at start indicating high death rate for young; lots of young, no care.

Age Structure

Populations that contain multiple cohorts exhibit age structure.

More individuals in the younger cohorts indicates a growing population.

Life History Diversity

Species that exhibit semelparity, or bigbang reproduction reproduce a single time and die.

Salmon Agave Favored in unpredictable climates.

Life History Diversity

Species that exhibit iteroparity, or repeated reproduction, produce offspring repeatedly over time.
Lizards often start reproducing during their second year and will produce eggs every year of their lives. Favored in more predictable environments.

Population Growth

It is useful to study population growth in an idealized situation in order to understand the capacity of species for increase and the conditions that may facilitate this type of growth.

Population Growth

If immigration and emigration are ignored, a populations growth rate equals birth rate minus death rate.

Population Growth
Zero population growth occurs when the birth rate equals the death rate. The population growth equation can be expressed as:

dN rN dt

Exponential Growth

Exponential population growth is population increase under idealized conditions.

Unlimited resources.

Under these conditions, the rate of reproduction is at its maximum, called the intrinsic rate of increase (rmax).

Exponential Growth

The equation of exponential population growth is:

dN dt rmaxN

Exponential Growth

Exponential population growth results in a Jshaped curve.

Exponential Growth

The J-shaped curve of exponential growth is characteristic of some populations that are rebounding.

Exponential Growth

The global human population has been in exponential growth for a long time. At what point will we surpass the carrying capacity for our planet?

Logistic Growth

Exponential growth cannot be sustained for long in any population.

Depends on unlimited resources. In reality, there are one or more limiting resources that prevent exponential growth.

Logistic Growth
A more realistic population model limits growth by incorporating carrying capacity. Carrying capacity (K) is the maximum population size the environment can support.

The Logistic Growth Model

In the logistic growth model, the per capita rate of increase declines as carrying capacity is reached.

The Logistic Growth Model

The logistic growth equation includes K, the carrying capacity.

(K N) dN rmax N dt K

The Logistic Growth Model

The logistic model of population growth produces an Sshaped curve.

The Logistic Model and Real Populations

The growth of laboratory populations of Paramecia fits an Sshaped curve.

The Logistic Model and Real Populations

Some populations overshoot K before settling down to a relatively stable density.

The Logistic Model and Real Populations

Some populations fluctuate greatly around K.

The Logistic Model and Real Populations

The logistic model fits few real populations, but is useful for estimating possible growth.

The Logistic Model and Life Histories

Life history traits favored by natural selection may vary with population density and environmental conditions.

K and r Selection

K-selection, or density-dependent selection, selects for life history traits that are sensitive to population density.

Few, but larger offspring, parental care.

r-selection, or density-independent selection, selects for life history traits that maximize reproduction.

Many small offspring, no parental care.

Extrinsic Limits to Growth

What environmental factors stop a population from growing? Why do some populations show radical fluctuations in size over time, while others remain stable?

Extrinsic Limits to Growth

Abiotic limiting factors such as a storm or a fire are density-independent their effect does not change with population density. Biotic factors such as competition or predation or parasitism act in a densitydependent way the effect does change with population density.

Community Ecology

Community ecology examines the interactions among the various populations in a community.


Populations of animals that form a community can interact in various ways.

Beneficial for one, negative for the other

Predation, Parasitism, Herbivory


Beneficial for one, neutral for the other


Barnacles growing on whales


Beneficial for both



Competition is a type of interaction that has a negative effect on both.

Community structure is often shaped by competition. Amensalism occurs when only one of the competitors incurs a cost.

Balanus & Chthamalus barnacles

Competition and Character Displacement

Competition occurs when two or more species share a limiting resource.

Competition and Character Displacement

Competition is reduced by reducing the overlap in their niches (the portion of resources shared).

The principle of competitive exclusion suggests that organisms with exactly the same niche cant co-occur.

One will drive the other out.

Competition and Character Displacement

Character displacement occurs when the species partition the resource, using different parts of it.

Appears as differences in morphology.

Competition and Character Displacement

Species that exploit a resource in a similar way form a guild.

Seed eaters vs. insect eaters.

A resource (insects) can be partitioned in terms of what part of the tree is searched.

Predator-Prey Cycles

Many populations undergo regular boom-and-bust cycles. These cycles are influenced by complex interactions between biotic and abiotic factors.


Predation refers to an interaction where one species, the predator, kills and eats the other, the prey.
Feeding adaptations of predators include: claws, teeth, fangs, stingers, and poison. Animals also display a great variety of defensive adaptations.

Cryptic Coloration

Cryptic coloration, or camouflage makes prey difficult to spot.

Aposematic Coloration

Aposematic coloration warns predators to stay away from prey.


In some cases, one prey species may gain significant protection by mimicking the appearance of another.

Batesian Mimicry

In Batesian mimicry, a palatable or harmless species mimics an unpalatable or harmful model.

Mllerian Mimicry

In Mllerian mimicry, two or more unpalatable species resemble each other.

Species with a Large Impact

Certain species have an especially large impact on the structure of entire communities either because they are highly abundant or because they play a pivotal role in community dynamics.

Keystone Species

Keystone species are not necessarily abundant in a community.

They exert strong control on a community by their ecological roles, or niches.

Keystone Species

Field studies of sea stars exhibit their role as a keystone species in intertidal communities.

Keystone Species

Observation of sea otter populations and their predation shows the effect the otters have on ocean communities.


An ecosystem consists of all the organisms living in a community as well as all the abiotic factors with which they interact.


Ecosystems can range from a microcosm, such as an aquarium to a large area such as a lake or forest.


Regardless of an ecosystems size, its dynamics involve two main processes:

Energy flow Chemical cycling

Energy flows through ecosystems, while matter cycles within them.

Trophic Relationships

Energy and nutrients pass from primary producers (autotrophs) to primary consumers (herbivores) and then to secondary consumers (carnivores).

Trophic Levels

Primary production in an ecosystem is the amount of light energy converted to chemical energy by autotrophs during a given time period.


Trophic Levels

Consumers include:
Herbivores animals that eat plants. Carnivores animals that eat other animals. Decomposers feed on dead organic matter.

Trophic Levels

Decomposition connects all trophic levels. Detritivores, mainly bacteria and fungi, recycle essential chemical elements by decomposing organic material and returning elements to inorganic reservoirs.

Energy Flow

Energy flows through an ecosystem entering as light and exiting as heat.

Gross and Net Primary Production

Total primary production in an ecosystem is known as that ecosystems gross primary production (GPP). Net primary production (NPP) is equal to GPP minus the energy used by the primary producers for respiration. Only NPP is available to consumers.

Energy Transfer

The secondary production of an ecosystem is the amount of chemical energy in consumers food that is converted to their own new biomass during a given period of time.

Trophic Efficiency and Ecological Pyramids

Trophic efficiency is the percentage of production transferred from one trophic level to the next.

Usually ranges from 5% to 20%.

Pyramids of Production

This loss of energy with each transfer in a food chain can be represented by a pyramid of net production. A pyramid of numbers represents the number of individual organisms in each trophic level.

Pyramids of Biomass

Most biomass pyramids show a sharp decrease at successively higher trophic levels.

Occasionally inverted

Nutrient Cycling

Life on Earth depends on the recycling of essential chemical elements. Nutrient circuits that cycle matter through an ecosystem involve both biotic and abiotic components and are often called biogeochemical cycles.

Toxins in the Environment

Humans release an immense variety of toxic chemicals including thousands of synthetics previously unknown to nature. One of the reasons such toxins are so harmful, is that they become more concentrated in successive trophic levels of a food web.

Toxins in the Environment

In biological magnification, toxins concentrate at higher trophic levels because at these levels biomass tends to be lower.

The Three Levels of Biodiversity

Genetic diversity comprises:

The genetic variation within a population. The genetic variation between populations.

Species diversity is the variety of species in an ecosystem or throughout the biosphere. Ecosystem diversity identifies the variety of ecosystems in the biosphere.

Endangered Species
An endangered species is one that is in danger of becoming extinct throughout its range. Threatened species are those that are considered likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services encompass all the processes through which natural ecosystems and the species they contain help sustain human life on Earth.
Purification of air and water. Detoxification and decomposition of wastes. Cycling of nutrients. Moderation of weather extremes. And many others.

Four Major Threats to Biodiversity

Most species loss can be traced to four major threats:

Habitat destruction Introduced species Overexploitation Disruption of interaction networks

Habitat fragmentation increases local extinction and speciation. Species that have larger ranges or better dispersal abilities are better protected from extinction.


There have been five mass extinctions.

Each time a large percentage of the species on earth went extinct.