Introducing the environment: Ecology and ecosystems
Introducing the environment: Ecology and ecosystems

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Introducing the environment: Ecology and ecosystems

1 The science of ecology

Let us start by looking at some of the vocabulary involved. To study or understand anything we have to be clear about what the words we use mean. We will need these words to record what we have discovered, and to share our understanding with other people.

This course is primarily concerned with a branch of the study of the natural world known as ecology:

  • Ecology is the scientific study of the interrelationships between living organisms and the environments in which they live.

Activity 1

0 hours 5 minutes

Words …

Look at the definition of ecology above. As you may already be aware, it is customary in science writing to use words in a precise and careful way. So it is important to be able to recognise and understand important terms when you come across them.

Note any terms in the definition that you feel are especially important to its meaning.


I noted four terms that seemed to be particularly important: ‘scientific’, ‘organisms’, ‘interrelationships’ and ‘environments’.

First and foremost, ecology is a scientific way of thinking about the world. This means that it involves a certain way of investigating, studying and writing about a topic.

In this context, an organism is a living thing – ourselves and other animals, as well as plants, fungi, bacteria and so on.

These living things interact with each other in various ways and with the non-living components that make up the environment in which they live. These non-living components include rocks, soils and water, as well as the atmosphere. (The physical locality, the place, in which an organism lives is known as its habitat.)

All these interactions produce a complicated set of interrelationships. And these interrelationships can take many forms, as we shall see.

Activity 2

0 hours 5 minutes

… and meanings

It's not enough to just spot important words, although that's a useful skill. The vital thing is to make sure that you understand what they mean.

Look back at the terms identified in Activity 1. Can you explain what each one means?

As you work through the remainder of this course, you will develop your understanding of the terms ‘organism’, ‘environment’, ‘habitat’ and ‘interrelationship’. When you come across one of these terms, stop and think about how it has been used. Does the way the term has been used change, or add anything to, your understanding?



  • wide range of organisms (living things) including animals, plants, fungi, bacteria and so on

  • scientific names – underlined if handwritten; Latin; genus and species


  • physical environment (not living)

  • can be seen in terms of ecosystems


  • where something lives


  • many connections even in small rockpool

  • for example, food chain, food web


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