Levels of Ecological Study

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A flow chart of three boxes shows the hierarchy of living organisms. The top box is labeled Organisms, and a picture of a tree is shown; then populations, and a picture of a forest is shown; and then communities, and a picture of a marmot is shown. The second box is labeled ecosystems; and has a photograph of a body of water, behind which is a stand of tall grasses developing into more dense vegetation and trees as distance from the water increases. The third box is labeled as the biosphere; and shows a drawing of planet Earth.
Ecologists study within several biological levels of organization. (credit “organisms”: modification of work by yeowatzup”/Flickr; credit “populations”: modification of work by “Crystl”/Flickr; credit “communities”: modification of work by US Fish and Wildlife Service; credit “ecosystems”: modification of work by Tom Carlisle, US Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters; credit “biosphere”: NASA)

OpenStax Biology 2e

When a discipline such as biology is studied, it is often helpful to subdivide it into smaller, related areas. For instance, cell biologists interested in cell signaling need to understand the chemistry of the signal molecules (which are usually proteins) as well as the result of cell signaling. Ecologists interested in the factors that influence the survival of an endangered species might use mathematical models to predict how current conservation efforts affect endangered organisms.

To produce a sound set of management options, a conservation biologist needs to collect accurate data, including current population size, factors affecting reproduction (like physiology and behavior), habitat requirements (such as plants and soils), and potential human influences on the endangered population and its habitat (which might be derived through studies in sociology and urban ecology). Within the discipline of ecology, researchers work at four general levels, which sometimes overlap. These levels are organism, population, community, and ecosystem.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e


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