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Ecological Relationships

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Examples of heterospecific interactions include predation, parasitism, herbivory, competition, and pollination. These interactions can have regulating effects on population sizes and can impact ecological and evolutionary processes affecting diversity. For example, Karner blue butterfly larvae form mutualistic relationships with ants.

Mutualism is a form of a long-term relationship that has coevolved between two species and from which each species benefits.

For mutualism to exist between individual organisms, each species must receive some benefit from the other as a consequence of the relationship. Researchers have shown that there is an increase in the probability of survival when Karner blue butterfly larvae caterpillars are tended by ants. This might be because the larvae spend less time in each life stage when tended by ants, which provides an advantage for the larvae.

Meanwhile, the Karner blue butterfly larvae secrete a carbohydrate-rich substance that is an important energy source for the ants. Both the Karner blue larvae and the ants benefit from their interaction. Ecosystem ecology is an extension of organismal, population, and community ecology. The ecosystem is composed of all the biotic components living things in an area along with the abiotic components non-living things of that area. Some of the abiotic components include air, water, and soil. Ecosystem biologists ask questions about how nutrients and energy are stored and how they move among organisms and the surrounding atmosphere, soil, and water.

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The Karner blue butterflies and the wild lupine live in an oak-pine barren habitat. This habitat is characterized by natural disturbance and nutrient-poor soils that are low in nitrogen. The availability of nutrients is an important factor in the distribution of the plants that live in this habitat. Researchers interested in ecosystem ecology could ask questions about the importance of limited resources and the movement of resources, such as nutrients, though the biotic and abiotic portions of the ecosystem. A career in ecology contributes to many facets of human society. Understanding ecological issues can help society meet the basic human needs of food, shelter, and health care.

These natural environments can be as close to home as the stream running through your campus or as far away as the hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Ecologists manage natural resources such as white-tailed deer populations Odocoileus virginianus for hunting or aspen Populus spp.

Ecologists also work as educators who teach children and adults at various institutions including universities, high schools, museums, and nature centers. Ecologists may also work in advisory positions assisting local, state, and federal policymakers to develop laws that are ecologically sound, or they may develop those policies and legislation themselves. All of this is the study of ecology, the study of ecosystems. Now when folks are talking about ecology they like to talk about different scales.

And so let's now think about the different scales within an ecosystem, or even beyond an ecosystem. So I have some pictures that if you watch a wildlife show you typically see some images like this, and so since we at least are familiar with it, at least on TV hopefully we get to visit this at some point in our life, let's just think about the different characters here on the different ecological scales. So at the most basic scale is the individual. So let me write this down, you have the individual.

So if we were talking about these elephants, the individual would be one individual elephant right over there. Now the next scale is the population, the next scale is the population, and if we were to stick with our African savanna theme right over here, the population, you have an individual elephant, the population would be the members of that same species that live in that area.

So in this case the population would be, would at least include these elephants that we see in this picture, there might be a couple of elephants that are off the picture, and I should say in particular these are going to be the African elephants. So it's the members of the same species that are living in the same place.

Soil plant atmosphere continuum

And it's up for the classifier, or the scientist, whoever is studying it to define what do we mean by living in the same place? We might define it as the people, you know, the people laughs , the elephants that live within a few miles of this watering hole. You might define it as the elephants that live within a broader area, it could be you know, that live in East Africa, or South Africa, whatever it might be.

And so defining the population is all the members of a species that live in an area, but that area is up for definition.

Biogeochemical cycles

Now the next level up is the community, is the community. And that is all the living things that might live in that area however we define the area. So for example, if this lion and this giraffe lives in the area that we used to define the population they would be members of the community. Let me circle that, so they would be members of the community. And it wouldn't even just be the big animals that you see here, it would include all the life that is in that area.

So it would include the vegetation that is in the area, it would include the bacteria, it would include the fungus, it would include any animals that are living inside of this water that you would see there. Now if you go even one more level of kind of inclusion, then we go to the ecosystem. So then we go, I'll go down here, then you go to an ecosystem.

And what an ecosystem is, it's all of the living things in that community, so all of the living things in an area, and then you're also adding the non-living things, the abiotic factors. So you're including the rock, and the air, and the weather, and the clouds, and the water itself that is part of that watering hole. And a lot of times you might think that the abiotic factors well they for sure affect, they for sure affect the biotic factors. If you don't have water, or if the temperature is too cold or too hot it might be hard for a certain type of life to thrive, but it goes both ways.

The biotic factors affect the abiotic factors.