A large oil spill in the middle of the ocean and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere are examples of environmental problems that can influence the entire planet. This lesson will explore the study of environmental problems occurring on a global scale, including the impact of globalization and current major global environmental problems.
The Scale of Ecology
Imagine the following problems: pollutants dumped in a pond, oil spilled in the ocean, a fire in Southern California, a drought in Arizona and an increase in the number of stray cats in a neighborhood. What do all of these problems have in common? They all influence the environment around them and have the potential to change the dynamic of the environment. Within the field of environmental science, there is a branch, known as ecology, which is used to study these types of environmental problems. Ecology is defined as the study of the distribution and abundance of organisms, the relationships between organisms and the interaction between organisms and their environment.
Although all of these problems are similar because they influence the environment, they also have one major difference, the scale to which they influence the environment. Some environmental problems are localized and only influence one species, while other problems influence a whole ecosystem or even the whole world. Due to the variation in the effects of environmental problems, the field of ecology has been divided into different branches based on scale.
Population ecology is the study of the interactions of a single species with other members of its species and the species' environment. Population ecology deals with problems that are on a smaller scale and influence a single species within the environment. An example of population ecology would be a study on the distribution of herds of deer.
Community ecology deals with slightly larger scale environmental issues and is the study of the interactions between multiple populations of species within a specific ecological community and how these populations interact with the environment. An example of community ecology would be a study on how two species of turtles utilize and partition the same habitat and food sources.
For an environmental problem that includes multiple communities within an ecosystem, ecosystem ecology would be used to study the problem. Ecosystem ecology is defined as the study of the interactions between organisms from multiple communities within a larger region. An example of ecosystem ecology would be a study on how a fire has influenced the species in a specific habitat.
What Is Global Ecology?
Although many scientists study environmental problems at the population, community and ecosystem levels, there are some environmental problems that are even larger in scale and can influence the whole planet. For these types of problems, the field of global ecology would be used to investigate answers. Global ecology is the study of the interactions among the Earth's ecosystems, land, atmosphere and oceans. Global ecology is very important because it is used to understand large scale interactions and how they influence the behavior of the entire planet, including the earth's responses to future changes.
The Influence of Globalization
In recent years, there has been an increase in the field of global ecology due to the influence of globalization. Globalization is defined as the increase in the interconnectedness of human activities, ideas and cultures. In the past, regions of the world were more isolated from one another and did not see how their actions influenced people in other regions. With the increase in globalization, especially the increase in travel and the sharing of ideas, people are becoming more aware of how their actions are influencing people and the environment outside of their immediate area. This awareness of others is important to the field of global ecology, because as awareness increases, there will be a higher demand for research that focuses on investigating and solving worldwide environmental problems.
Major Problems on a Global Scale
There are currently four major environmental problems that are occurring on the global scale. The first environmental problem is habitat destruction. Habitat destruction is when a natural habitat is altered in a way that makes it no longer possible for the habitat to support the species originally found in it. Habitat destruction can include land modifications such as deforestation, urbanization, converting land for agricultural use, dam construction and strip mining. As habitat destruction increases, there is a reduction in the amount of available habitat, which wildlife rely on for survival.
The second major environmental problem that is occurring on a global scale is the harm caused by invasive species. Invasive species are species that have been transplanted from their original location to another location and have negative effects on the native organisms, environment and economy of their new region. With the increase in globalization and world travel, the prevalence of invasive species has increased.
The third major environmental problem is the decline of population densities. Populations of many species have been drastically reduced in recent history due to their use by humans. Some species of trees have been overharvested for timber and the populations are now rare and near extinction. This has also happened with animals that have been heavily hunted for food, medicinal properties, and sale, such as tigers and whales.
The fourth major environmental problem that is occurring on a global scale is pollution. Pollution is the act of releasing a contaminant into the soil, water or air. Although most pollutants are released in a specific location, pollution as a whole is considered a global problem, because the effects of the pollutant often reach farther than the immediate area where the pollution occurred. Pollution is a very important environmental problem that requires immediate action, because as a result of an increase in pollution in recent years, there have been changes in the entire climate of the planet.
After examining the four major environmental issues that are occurring on the global scale, which are habitat destruction, invasive species, decline of population densities and pollution, it is easy to see how important the field of global ecology is. Global ecology is the study of the interactions among the Earth's ecosystems, land, atmosphere and oceans.
Unlike population ecology, community ecology and ecosystem ecology - whose focuses range from individual species to regions - global ecology investigates problems that are occurring on a much larger scale. By understanding how the entire planet is interacting and how we as humans are influencing our planet, it is possible to make changes that will help ensure the future of our planet.
Once you wrap up the lesson, you should be able to:
- Define ecology and differentiate between the different branches of ecology
- List and describe each of the four major environmental problems