The Historical Background Of Ecology (greece-xx Century)

The historical antecedents of ecology go back to the origins of mankind. The first men had to study the environment and pass the knowledge on to generations or they would not have survived.

The history of ecology in its beginnings did not completely consider the study of the interactions between organisms and their environment as a science, but as a point of view of interest of certain people or groups with experience on nature.

historical background of ecology

Ecology has long been attached within biology and as an interdisciplinary area of ​​study depending on occupations, professions, interests and needs within complex growing and expanding societies.

The discipline of natural history is also considered an accepted starting point for studies and records made with ecological scope, for example, in the ancient world.

It is not until practically the middle of the last century that ecology takes real world recognition due to the widespread concern about the state of the environment, pollution, the crisis of ecosystems and the extinction of species.

The term “Ecology” 

In 1869, the German biologist Ernst Haeckel gave his name to this branch of biology using the Greek terms oikos , which means house, and lodge , which means study. “House” referred to the habitat of living organisms.

Ecology is, etymologically, the study of the habitat of living beings, and Haeckel defined it as the study of the interdependence and interaction between living organisms, animals and plants with their environment.

Its interdisciplinary character currently crosses it with other areas of study such as geography , earth sciences and biology .

Currently, ecology also focuses on the effect of man on the environment and the management of natural resources . 

First signs of ecology

Earth globe born from a plant that represents ecology and some of the auxiliary sciences such as geography or biology.

The knowledge of human observations on their natural environment can be traced back to the most ancient civilizations, especially in farmers, ranchers, hunters, fishermen, aquaculturists, herders and animal breeders.

Throughout the evolution of societies, ecological knowledge was familiar to a small number of people. In addition to those mentioned above, those interested in simply satisfying their curiosity and recording their observations began to be added.

This is where the first biologists in history were born. All of these people shared a web of intertwined but not overlapping concepts, methodologies, publications, professional associations, and concerns about the relationships of living organisms as populations and communities in their environment.

In the case of the beginnings as a more formal and systematic science of study of nature, it is due to ancient Greece around the 3rd or 4th century BC; ecological thinking has its roots in the teaching of philosophy, ethics and politics.

In the natural history texts of Aristotle and his student successor Theophrastus, there are records of their studies on plants and animals and their interactions. The differences between trees of the same type had already been considered in their writings.

For example, the position of the plant, the wet, swampy or dry soil where they grew, the proximity to water, exposure to the sun or shade, and details for cultivation. 

The advances of the 18th century

At the beginning of this century, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek was the first to develop and propose the concept of the food chain between organisms. By then, there were twenty thousand species of plants known.

Two currents of thought were also born that demarcated the growth of the study of ecology: the Arcadia and the Imperial schools.

Arcadia Ecology advocated the harmonious relationship of man with nature, and Imperial Ecology believed in the establishment of man’s dominion over nature through reason and work.

Both had different views on the matter and came to rival each other until Carolus Linnaeus appeared on the scene. He pioneered taxonomy, the science that names and classifies organisms. He discovered a large number of plants and animals which he included in his book “Systema Naturae”.

Linnaeus supported the imperialist position and thanks to its popularity, the school of Imperialist Ecology became the dominant vision of the discipline.

The advances of the XIX century 

In the early years, the power maritime Europe like Britain, Portugal and Spain promoted expeditions to discover new natural resources and leave records of the findings. Around forty thousand species of plants were known by then.

It was common for naval fleet ships serving the kingdoms to carry a few scientists, such as biologists and botanists, in their crews, interested in exploring and documenting – even with drawings – new species of animals and plants during the journey through the sea and the islands.

It is at this time that the German botanist Alexander von Humboldt lived, now recognized as the father of ecology. Humboldt was the first to delve into the study of the relationships between organisms and their species.

He discovered the existence of a relationship between the observed plant species and the climate, and gave an explanation regarding the geographical distribution with respect to geological data, using latitude and longitude. From there geobotany was born.

In the middle of the century, Charles Darwin proposed his theory of evolution. This includes in the studies on living organisms the property of changing and adapting with respect to their environment, with the sole purpose of surviving as a species; ensure the reproduction of the next generation.

The term “biosphere” was proposed by Eduard Suess in 1875, under the concept of the optimal conditions that allow life on earth, which includes flora, fauna, minerals, cycles, among others.

The advances of the 20th century 

In 1920 the study of human ecology emerged to scientifically study the influence of cities and residential sites on nature.

A few years later, Vladimir Vernadsky redefines the biosphere as a global ecological system that integrated all living things and their relationships, including their interactions with the elements of the lithosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere .

In 1935 the term “ ecosystem ” was applied , as a biological community of interrelated organisms and their physical space. Thanks to this, ecology becomes the science of ecosystems.

After the Second World War and from the middle of the century, the impact of human activities on ecosystems and the disappearance of species, made ecology now also focused on conservationism take a different course.


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