Ecology strives to get to the point where predictions

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from previous studies. Ecology strives to get to the point where predictions can be reli- ably made.This step often pushes existing ecology to its limits. Great progress has been made in recent years and ecology’s track record is constantly improving. Ecologists need at least a basic understanding of nearly every other branch of sci- ence. Biochemistry, taxonomy, physiology, geology, and statistics are especially important to ecologists. In addition to understanding other sciences and branches of biology, ecol- ogists have gathered their own store of knowledge, some of which will engage us for the rest of the chapter. Ecology Grew from Natural History Ecology as a science has a relatively brief history, encompassing only the 20th century. In a sense, however, interest in organisms and their surroundings is as old as humanity itself.The earliest humans needed to know when and where to find game, edible plants, E = 72 W 3 > 4 ,
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15-1 What Is Ecology? 491 and other life-supporting materials. Later, at the dawn of history, as humans switched to pastoral lifestyles,knowledge we would call ecological was probably essential:Where will crops grow best? Where are reliable sources of water? How can we discourage pests? What would it take to domesticate chickens, pigs, and cattle? These were the kinds of questions that captivated early farmers. By the Middle Ages, a vast store of ecological folk wisdom existed throughout the world. Starting in the 1300s, opportunities to study natural history flourished, particularly among Europeans.World travelers brought back to Europe extensive collections of specimens.These collections launched Linnaeus, Darwin, and others on their life’s work. Interest went beyond the specimens themselves. Where did they come from? Under what conditions did they live? How did they behave? Travelers and explorers were eager to supply answers. By the time of Darwin, Europeans and North Americans had an extensive literature of natural history. Unfortunately, accuracy varied among these accounts, and readers sometimes had no way of distinguishing between whales and sea monsters, elephant seals and mermaids, and kangaroos and unicorns. By the last half of the 19th century, the stage was set to move beyond folk wisdom, stories, and traveler’s tales. Darwin had interpreted differences between populations of organisms as arising in response to natural selection.Soon after he wrote,others,including Haeckel,whose quote heads this chapter,began intellectually to build on Darwin’s foun- dation. What aspects of the environment frame and influence natural selection? This question, rooted in a rich tradition of natural history, led to the science of ecology. The growth of many important ideas in biology can be likened to a tree, with one unifying idea emerging from an extensive historical system of roots.The trunk is a sin- gle individual—Darwin, Mendel—or a small group—Schlieden, Schwann, and Virchow.
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