History of Ecology

Ecology is the study of Earth’s living systems and how they interact.  Sometimes it is confused with environmentalism, but environmentalism is a social and political movement, not science.  Ecology is one of the most complex sciences and is very new.  As such we are only at the beginning of our understanding of how environmental systems react and how a change in one element might affect a whole system or one organisms in that system.

This is a diagram of a freshwater ecosystem. Ecology is the study of systems that involve life plus all the non-living things like soil and water, that make life possible. Image by Thompsma, released to the public domain.

Timeline of Ecology

Here’s a timeline of the history of ecology as a science:

  • late 1700’s Antoine Lavoisier, a chemist, discovered Oxygen and Carbon and their importance to living things
  • 1852 Robert Angus Smith connected acid rain to air pollution
  • 1869 Ernst Haeckel coins the term ecology
  • 1875- Eduard Seuss defines the biosphere
  • 1879 Symbiosis is first described
  • late 1800’s animal camouflage studied and described
  • 1900 Henry Chandler Cowles studies ecological succession
  • 1915 Ecological Society of America founded
  • 1927 Charles Elton makes the concept of food chains and webs part of ecology
  • 1933 Aldo Leopold writes Game Management, beginning the discipline of wildlife management
  • 1935 The Dust Bowl crisis re-focuses ecology on practical land usage practices
  • 1935 Arthur Tinsley defines ecosystem
  • 1940’s Ruth Patrick studied interdependence of organisms, particularly freshwater ecosystems.  She developed methods to measure the health of a stream.
  • 1950’s People first become aware of the harmful effects of pollution on ecological systems and on people.
  • 1951 Nature Conservancy is founded.
  • 1953 Eugene Odum, Howard Odum wrote the first ecology textbook and ecology becomes a university course.
  • 1970’s James Lovelock’s idea of Gaia, that the whole earth is one living entity and will ensure its own survival even if humans destroy themselves
  • 1972 Acid rain effects on lakes is discovered and studied by Harold Harvey
  • 1978 Conservation Biology established as a discipline focusing on environmental management
  • 1980’s Scientists discover hole in the ozone over Antarctica
  • 1980’s Water pollution seriously reduced due to new sewage treatment practices
  • 1980’s Air pollution reduced in cities as unleaded gas and catalytic converters are used in autos

You can find pictures of some of these events and people and place them on a wall timeline.

To Do Your Own Ecology

Learn about the history of ecology and do some ecology yourself.
CJ is examining a mushroom that is growing in the woods. Back in the day he would be called a naturalist. Today he might be an ecologist.

Spend time in nature with a nature notebook.  Draw pictures and write descriptions of animals and plants you come across. Make a plant surveyor and a plant press and make a collection.  Study a pond, stream, or lake and do an algae experiment.  Study a particular animal or plant and its environment like the frog or butterflies.

How to do a plant survey like a real ecologist.
How to do a plant survey like a real ecologist.

Learn all about frogs.
Learn all about frogs.

How to make a back pack plant press for collections.
How to make a back pack plant press for collections.

Experiment to see what effects pollution has on algae growth.
Experiment to see what effects pollution has on algae growth.

Do this craft and learn about the life cycle of a butterfly.
Do this craft and learn about the life cycle of a butterfly.

Make a bird call to help you attract and observe birds in the wild.
Make a bird call to help you attract and observe birds in the wild.

Additional Layers

  • Learn more about one of the scientists in the timeline above and do a biographical sketch or report on them.
  • Antoine Lavoisier, the chemist who discovered the carbon cycle, was guillotined during the French Revolution.  Just over a year later the government apologized to his widow for his false execution.
  • Check out the Leave No Trace Foundation, learn how you can help and take the pledge.
  • Ansel Adams, a nature photographer, used his art to help gain popular support for the preservation of natural sites.  Learn more about him and his photographs and do some nature art of your own.

 

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