- Why do biologists, ecologists, and conservationists need to be aware of political, social, economic, and social science issues?–While basic science and research is valuable and there is great joy to be found in pursuing it, most scientists do research for the purpose of seeing it applied, and most research is done with application in mind. Biologists and other scientists who do work relating to the environment need to be aware of political, social, economic and social science issues because the overwhelming majority of threats to the environment are caused by humans. Humans, in turn, do not function as individual entities without affecting each other. Rather, they function in groups, and the damage they cause to the environment can only properly be understood in historical and social terms. Conservation scientists, who focus on keeping the environment as close to “pristine” as possible (i.e. as close as it can be devoid of human effects) need to broaden their scope and question their fundamental assumptions: a variety of modern social forces have created global environmental change (such as climate change), ensuring that there is no part of nature that is not experiencing the effects of human activity.
- Steven Handel wrote a funny “interview” called “Marriage Therapy for Ecologists and Landscape Architects” that shows why ecologists and landscape architects sometimes have difficulties understanding each other.
- Political ecology is the study of the interactions of and relationships between the environment and social issues (political, economic, cultural). It can mean the study of examining human society from an ecological point of view (applying the concepts of ecology and biology to systems of human organization) or it can mean the study of biology from a social studies point of view (examining how our scientific findings are influenced by our cultural concepts).
Ecology prides itself on being apolitical and strictly examining biological relationships (how organisms interact with each other in a “food chain”, for example, or how organisms interact with their environment). People who are dedicated to keeping the natural environment in its “pristine” form are called conservationists.
Political ecologists see the relationship between people and nature inseparable and argue that one cannot preserve the natural environment without critically examining the entities causing the problem–i.e. people. Many of them also argue that there is no such thing as “pristine” nature.
While there is conflict between political ecologists and ecologists that mirrors that between social scientists and physical (“real”) scientists, it is pointless to take sides. Each discipline has its own intrinsic value and each relies on the insights of the other.
- Why does biodiversity matter? (In other words, why do we need to “save the animals”?)
- Biodiversity–a blanket term referring to the variety of genes, species, or traits of the life forms in existence on the planet. There are several ways to measure it, e.g.:
Species richness–a measure of unique species in an ecological community, landscape, or area. It is simply a count of the number of species–it doesn’t account for the abundance of each species
Species evenness–a measure of how close (in numbers) each species in an ecosystem or area are
- Coral reefs reduce wave energy and height infographic
- How coral reefs reduce risks for natural hazards
- Ecosystem functions–ecological processes that affect the stocks of energy, nutrients, and organic matter through an environment, and the rates at which they flow