How organisms respond to their environment is a primary and fascinating aspect of ecology. Although organisms in nature respond to the combined effects of a variety of interacting factors in their environment, ecologists generally study the effect of one environmental factor at a time. For example, an ecologist might investigate the effect of drought on plant species in hot desert regions. Other ecologists might study the effect of competition for nesting sites for colonies of northern gannets, which are seabirds that nest in colonies, which often consist of thousands of individuals, along coastal zones of the North Atlantic. More complex ecological experiments, i.e., experiments that examine multiple factors simultaneously, are becoming common. However, these complex experiments are often done by a group of ecologists - each contributing their expertise to the investigation.

Some of the basic questions that ecologists address are: What kinds of adaptations do species in nature have to cope with their environment? How do species develop the characteristics that allow them to cope with their environment? And what are the limits of tolerance to the ability of organisms to cope with variations in the environment?

The ecological field that addresses such questions is ecophysiology (similar to autecology; from the Greek root aut for self or same), which is a field that examines the fundamental mechanisms of how the organism copes with its environment. This discipline is also referred to as functional ecology because of its emphasis on how organisms function under various environmental factors.

What do you know . . .

Download & install tbruntime
before running Exploring Ecology
(*this only needs to done once)


... want to know more?

  Animal Diversity Web
  Flora of the Northwest
  HortiPlex - plant species index
  Pacific Northwest Herbaria
  PLANTS Database (USDA)
  Human population growth


Featured books and journals

Animal ecology. 2001. Elton, C. S.. University of Chicago Press.

Environmental physiology of animals. 2000. Willmer, P., G. Stone, and I. A. Johnston. Blackwell Science.

Plant ecophysiology. 2003. Larcher, W. Springer-Verlag.

The ecology of plants. 2002. Gurevitch, J., S. M. Scheiner, and G. A. Fox. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland.

Terrestrial plant ecology. Third Edition. 1999. Barbour, M.G., J.H. Burk, W.D. Pitts, F.S. Gilliam, and M.W. Schwartz. Benjamin Cummings.

Ecological Society of America
British Ecological Society

Species and the environment
Functional Ecology

The American Naturalist

The Auk
The Condor

Ecology of Freshwater Fish
Fisheries journals

Journal of Mammalogy

American Journal of Botany
Journal of Ecology

Internet resources