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In a society concerned with climate change, overpopulation, and extinction, ecology provides a scientific link to the living world. Ecologists study the lives of many species including animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms. Interactions among these organisms are investigated at many scales ranging from the microscopic to the global.

  • At the individual level, ecology investigates the impact of environmental factors on organisms through their physiology and behaviour. Ultimately, ecologists link these factors to survival and reproduction in variable environments.
  • Ecologists study populations of a species to determine the causes of fluctuations in numbers and changes in distribution. This type of work is the focus of agencies concerned with the exploitation, extinction, and rehabilitation of both commercially and esthetically important species.
  • Studies at the community level deal with many coexisting species. They examine the interactions between species within the communities (competition, predation, etc.) as well as broader investigations of community structure and composition.

Methods used in these three approaches are diverse but are generally concerned with data collection, analysis, and interpretation. Data collection includes: extensive observation of organisms in their natural settings, field and laboratory experimentation involving deliberate manipulation, and monitoring natural or human disturbances. Analytical tools include state-of-the-art physiological (biochemical), genetic/genomic (DNA), and statistical methods. In addition, mathematical modeling via computer simulation is often useful in uniting field observations with current ecological theories. Ultimately, ecologists must interpret their results in relation to the questions originally proposed (hypotheses) and the findings of others. This philosophy of study is developed through the core ecology courses that are taken by all students in the program.

Research faculty members in this area