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Ecology Lesson For Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

Ecology is the study of how living things relate to each other and the non-living things in the environment. This lesson will teach you about ecology and why scientists use it to help us understand our planet.

What Is Ecology?

It's a bright, sunny day at the park so you and your friends decide to meet up and hang out. After playing for a while, you decide to hang out under the big shade tree to get out of the sun while you drink your bottle of water and eat the apple you brought as a snack. Though you might not realize it, you're interacting with your environment, which includes everything from that shade tree keeping you cool, to the water you drank and that sweet, to the juicy apple you ate.

Ecology is the study of how living things on Earth interact with and rely on other living and non-living things in the environment where they live. And like you interacted in different ways with your environment at the park, all living things do the same in their surroundings.

Studying Ecosystems

Scientists who study ecology, called ecologists, sometimes look at specific kinds of places or living organisms to learn more about them. These specific areas with certain kinds of living and non-living things are called ecosystems.

Ecologist working in a forest ecosystem
Ecologist working in a forest ecosystem

The living things that make up ecosystems include animals, plants, bacteria that you can't see without a microscope and different kinds of fungus. The non-living things in an ecosystem include dirt, water and sunlight.

Ecosystems can be small, like the pond at your local park, where only a few living things interact and rely on each other and the non-living things in their environment. But they can also be big, like an entire rainforest where a lot of living things interact and rely on each other, as well as the non-living things in their environment.

Food Webs in Ecosystems

When ecologists study ecosystems, they are interested in how the things that live there rely on each other and their environment to survive, including what they eat and what eats them to get energy. This is called a food chain. When different food chains include some of the same plants and animals, it's called a food web.

Ocean food web
Ocean food web

For example, a plant in an ecosystem needs soil, water and energy from sunlight to grow. Then a beetle comes along and nibbles on the plant for energy. And just like you enjoy a snack, birds do, too, so one swoops down and eats the beetle. Understanding this food chain helps ecologists understand the entire ecosystem where these organisms live.

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