4 Lessons I’ve Learned in Ecology

Woooo Hooooo!

Time for the first real post of the blog! (Not saying that my last post wasn’t a real post.) Let’s fling our minds open and learn all about the coolest field of study in natural sciences, Ecology!

(In my first post, I promised that I wouldn’t make this blog like reading an overly scientific and boring journal. I plan to do everything I can to make the topic interesting and casual. But this one is a bit harder to make fun to read because it’s about an entire field of study, so I apologize if this one is a bit more dry and I promise to do my best with this one and all that will come!)

What is Ecology?

To put it simply, Ecology is the study of the processes in the environment and how they work. More scientifically speaking, how Biotic (living) and Abiotic (non-living) factors interact. {We’ll talk more about these interactions further in the post.}

Ecology is different from formal biology because you’re not just looking at the plants and animals but also the soil, atmosphere, water, temperature and nutrient availability. Ecologist is like a blend of a biologist, soil scientist, geologist, and hydrologist with a dash of economist.

It’s like biology’s fun uncle.

4 Lessons I’ve Learned So Far in Ecology

Everything is Interconnected

In this memorable scene of Lion King (this movie alone increased my love of nature as a child 100 fold), Mufasa is explaining a very simplistic food web trying to explain the circle of life to the young prince. In his example, he notes that the lion eats an antelope, lion dies and becomes grass and the antelope eats the grass.

It’s a very clear and easy explanation for a kids movie to talk about nutrient cycles and food webs. But not nearly as interesting and complex as the whole story.

It doesn’t even acknowledge the non-living parts of the system that are affected. So I’ve come up with an ecologist rewrite for these lines and for the sake of continuity, we’ll keep the same 3 points Mufasa points out, but fill in the blanks as interactions would really happen in the ecosystem.

Lion eats the antelope. Leftovers from the kill feed vultures, hyenas, beetles, flies, fungi, jackals and bacteria.

Lion passes away of natural causes. Its body becomes food for flies, hyenas, beetles, jackals, vultures, bacteria and later on, fungi. The bacteria and fungi collect a large amount of the nitrogen from the dead lion. The grass trades carbon sugars from photosynthesis for nitrogen the fungi and bacteria took from the lion.

The antelope eats the grass.

I know that was a LOT to digest, but this is a more accurate route for the cycling of nutrients and it’s not the only one (Of course Disney would have had fewer people following the film if the scene was long enough to explain all of that). The only abiotic factor I mentioned in the extended was the soil. What if the wind or water picked up the soil and moved it to another place? Or the wind that helps the grass reproduce and propagate? These questions could go on forever, but they are all just scratching the surface of what Ecology is!

Everything is Important to Something

Did you know that a major source of nutrients for the Amazon rain forest (apparently not “rainforest” according to Cambridge University) isn’t in South America? It’s not even in the New World. It’s ancient dust from the Sahara Desert!

Noted in National Geographic’s 2018 series “One Strange Rock” (available on Netflix), Dust storms carry particles of fossilized Plankton and their carbon and nitrogen content across the Atlantic Ocean to land in the soils of the Amazon and help the forest giants grow.

Think about that.

We live on a planet where deserts shape rain forests, wind shapes habitats, storms change animal behavior, wolves can affect rivers and pigeons can define an entire ecosystem.

Bryan Berg breaking the world record for largest house of cards made.

A great way to see these unexpected important interactions is to think about it like a big house of cards. Every species is a card, sitting on a foundation of the abiotic factors. The house can’t stand without the foundation, and it’s not a house of cards without the cards. Every card is important not only to itself, but also each card it touches, and even those it doesn’t directly interact with.

But the world is made up of more than just abiotic to biotic interactions. Weather and soil chemistry can affect water chemistry and the type of rocks in the environment. Those same factors also affect the types of plants that can live in an area. This pattern just goes higher and higher while getting more complex when you start adding interactions between plants, animals, fungi and nutrients.

Nothing in an ecosystem exists without a job to do for it’s home and a purpose to work towards.

Greatest. Quote. Ever.

It’s a Mildly Depressing field (But it helps to be hopeful)

It’s not hard to see that the ecological world is in trouble. Just watch any nature documentary (Chasing Coral and anything by the BBC are my favorites!) and it becomes apparent that the planet is in trouble and fighting many different uphill battles on different fronts.

  • Climate Change
  • Habitat Loss
  • Lack of Knowledge
  • Pollution
  • Disease
  • Invasive Species
  • Over-exploitation
  • Unsustainable Development
  • Poor Agricultural Practices

There are tons of issues facing the environment of the planet in the solar system we call home. Many of these have been seen at one point or another by Earth’s tenants, but the swiftest and largest of these are entirely new to the planet.

For example there was a recent study stating that around 40% of insects are at risk of extinction within the next century. If you think that we can live without these awesome arthropods, try growing food without ladybugs to clean them, bees, moths or butterflies to pollinate them, beetles to fertilize them and ants to protect them.

I don’t want to spend too much time focusing on the issues that face the environment, because if I do, we might get an idea similar to a purple alien with a weird chin…

The things that make me hopeful for the future of ecology on this planet are that even though the vast majority of problems facing the world are human caused/driven either directly or indirectly, we weren’t all doing these things and knowing that our planet would pay the price for it. So what gives me a sense of hope is that if we all got on board with collectively trying to help the planet, we could definitely do it.

That idea and the mind-blowing fact that…

Life on Earth is Amazingly Resilient

Life on Earth has gone through some really tough times. I mean seriously, our planet went through an absurd amount of trials and tribulations to get to this point that had an opportunity to be utterly devastating to the planet.

  • Ice Ages
  • Meteor Strikes
  • Solar Radiation
  • Mass Extinctions
  • Massive Floods
  • Massive Space Collisions
  • ANYTHING related to Plate Tectonics
  • and so many other things

Mother Earth isn’t a dainty woman. She’s been through some stuff and she has all the tools to ensure that life will always go on. Trust her. It might not be what you want to make it, but life finds a way.

Let me know what you think! If you have any questions, comments concerns or complaints, let me know in the reply section!

Was this post too much science talk or just the right amount of science to be educational? Follow me on Instagram and Facebook by using the links at the top and bottom of this page. Support me by ordering a sicker, shirt, mug or bag from my merch site!

Have a wonderful morning, afternoon, evening and night!

P.S I’m thinking of doing posts on weekends and maybe something during the week. Let me know what you think!

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