Ecology (from Greek: οἶκος, "house"; -λογία, "study of"[A]) is the scientific study of interactions among organisms and their environment, such as the interactions organisms have with each other and with their abiotic environment. Topics of interest to ecologists include the diversity, distribution, amount (biomass), number (population) of organisms, as well as competition between them within and among ecosystems. Ecosystems are composed of dynamically interacting parts including organisms, the communities they make up, and the non-living components of their environment. Ecosystem processes, such as primary production, pedogenesis, nutrient cycling, and various niche construction activities, regulate the flux of energy and matter through an environment. These processes are sustained by organisms with specific life history traits, and the variety of organisms is called biodiversity. Biodiversity, which refers to the varieties of species, genes, and ecosystems, enhances certain ecosystem services.
Ecology is an interdisciplinary field that includes biology and Earth science. The word "ecology" ("Ökologie") was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919). Ancient Greek philosophers such as Hippocrates and Aristotle laid the foundations of ecology in their studies on natural history. Modern ecology transformed into a more rigorous science in the late 19th century. Evolutionary concepts on adaptation and natural selection became cornerstones of modern ecological theory. Ecology is not synonymous with environment, environmentalism, natural history, or environmental science. It is closely related to evolutionary biology, genetics, and ethology. An understanding of how biodiversity affects ecological function is an important focus area in ecological studies. Ecologists seek to explain:
- Life processes, interactions and adaptations
- The movement of materials and energy through living communities
- The successional development of ecosystems, and
- The abundance and distribution of organisms and biodiversity in the context of the environment.
Ecology is a human science as well. There are many practical applications of ecology in conservation biology, wetland management, natural resource management (agroecology, agriculture, forestry, agroforestry, fisheries), city planning (urban ecology), community health, economics, basic and applied science, and human social interaction (human ecology). For example, the Circles of Sustainability approach treats ecology as more than the environment 'out there'. It is not treated as separate from humans. Organisms (including humans) and resources compose ecosystems which, in turn, maintain biophysical feedback mechanisms that moderate processes acting on living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) components of the planet. Ecosystems sustain life-supporting functions and produce natural capital like biomass production (food, fuel, fiber and medicine), the regulation of climate, global biogeochemical cycles, water filtration, soil formation, erosion control, flood protection and many other natural features of scientific, historical, economic, or intrinsic value.