Ecology

Since the nineteenth century, ecology has been defined as the study of the functional interrelationships of living organisms, played out on the stage of their inanimate surroundings. Ecology has developed through an ongoing dialogue between two distinct ways of seeing the world. We might call these “synthetic” and “analytic” tendencies. Throughout the history of ecology, they have competed for attention, at times replacing one another sequentially, at others coexisting uneasily.

Aristotle laid the philosophical foundations for ecology by presenting natural history as a distinct area of inquiry, but the power of ecology to explain the origin and diversity of life on Earth was not fully demonstrated until the work of Charles Darwin (1859) and Alfred Russel Wallace (1860). Their research—especially that of Wallace—revealed how interactions between organisms and environments have powerfully shaped every species’ distributional pattern and history. Darwin’s concept of natural selection emphasized mechanisms of competition and sexual selection. …

This essay may be found on page 71 of the printed volume.

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