Lecture1 - 1 Biol 585 Ecology Fall 11 R D Howard...

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1 Biol 585 Fall 11 Ecology R. D. Howard Introduction & Adaptation In this course, we plan to give you an overview of various aspects of ecology. By the end of the semester, we hope that you will have a firm grasp of ecological principles, a feeling of what types of research is being done in ecology, and an idea of the types of controversies that are still raging in the field. Although this type of course is often easier to teach (and to take) if it handled phenomena as being black or white, this is never the case in practice; so if we are going to teach you anything about the 'real world', we should also include the aspects of disagreements and uncertainties that exist among ecologists. One distinction needs to be made clear at the outset: This is not a course in environmental awareness; there are courses offered at Purdue that will accomplish this for you. Again, the goal of this course is to teach you how organisms cope with their physical environment and with other types of organisms. That is, we hope to give you some feeling as to how the "machine of nature" works. It is crucial to understand how nature works because so much of human activity seems to threaten the natural order of things. So for some of you this course may be an introduction as to how to do research that uncovers the basic properties of nature; for others it may be a better understanding of natural laws as we currently understand them so that you can make more informed future decisions. To begin, I need to define ecology: Ecology : the scientific study of how organisms interact with (and are influenced by) their environment, and how these interactions determine their distribution and abundance This definition stresses two ultimate goals that most ecologists have: to understand the processes (= interactions) that produce the patterns of species abundance and distribution, and to predict the particular pattern that a specific process should produce (or predict the process that underlies an observed pattern). However, the term 'processes' or 'interactions' covers a lot of topics including the abiotic environment as well as all the other organisms that coexist with individuals of a particular species. Our general approach to ecology is to frame ecological processes in terms of evolution . Such an approach provides insights into how and why specific characteristics of organisms came about, and what is involved when these characteristics change in some way as a result of some environmental change. Thus, evolutionary principles are thought to underlie most of the general patterns that we observe in nature. Or as Dobzhansky once said: "nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution" . Most ecologists feel that natural selection primarily works on individuals and that populations are the units of evolution. However, you should realize that disagreement exists among biologists as to which unit of organization is the best one to use; some biologists suggest that populations or species are better than individuals for some phenomena.
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This note was uploaded on 08/28/2011 for the course ESE 585 taught by Professor Richardhoward during the Fall '11 term at Purdue.

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Lecture1 - 1 Biol 585 Ecology Fall 11 R D Howard...

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