How does ecology differ from biology?

How does ecology differ from biology?

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What precisely is ecology? How does it differ from biology? Because I never studied biology after high school, please explain as if I were 10 years old. I only know that ecology is a subset of biology

I tried some dictionaries but they didn't adequately discriminate. I tried to find an explanation from a scientist: the following appears to claim that only ecology concerns some organism's external interactions with other entities? But how? Biology must also? For example, suppose that someone studies prions' interactions with humans, and not just prions. Then this is biology, not ecology?

Source: by Matthew Fraser, PhD Candidate (Marine Ecology) at University of Western Australia

So what makes us fully fledged marine ecologist different from our biologist counterparts? Well, I think that marine ecology is even cooler than marine biology because as marine ecologists we link what we know about the biology of a given species with other plants/animals and the environment as well. [… ]

If we were splitting hairs, ecology is technically a form of biology, but I felt the need to write this post given how passionately I see some researchers stating that they are in one camp or another. [… ] But as an ecologist (albeit a biased one!) what gets me excited isn't just finding out how the amazing plants and animals we find in the ocean work, but how they interact with each other and their environment, explaining why we see certain species in some places and not others!

Ecology has two meanings. The popular and the scientific meaning.

Ecology: the popular definition: Here the term ecology is probably quite poorly defined. To my gut feeling, the concept relates to the concept of global change. It encompass many fields such as biology (ecology (in the scientific sense), evolutionary biology and conservation biology especially), ethics and moral, politics, meteorology, public policy,…

Ecology: the scientific definition: Ecology is a subfield of biology and earth sciences that studies interactions among organisms and their environment. interaction is an important word here.

Biology has a much broader meaning. Biology is the science that studies life. Biology studies the structure, the ecology (impact on their surrounding), the evolution, development biochemical processes, etc… of living things. Biology is a very big field of science. A researcher in biology will probably not really consider him/herself as a biologist but rather as a molecular geneticist, a neurologist, a epidemiologist, a plant physiologist, a biochemist, a bioinformatician, a system biologist, etc… For example, I would appreciate to consider myself as a population geneticist rather than as a biologist as there are many fields of biology I know nothing about. For example, I am a pretty bad naturalist.

In short, ecology is to biology what optics is to mechanics is to physics. Some people may not like this comparison as mechanics might take a larger part of physics that what ecology does to biology. Earth scientists may not like this comparison as well, as they are part of ecology without necessarily feeling like being part of biology. But anyway.

From the text you cite

[… ] as an ecologist [… ] what gets me excited isn't just finding out how the amazing plants and animals we find in the ocean work, but how they interact with each other and their environment [… ]

It shows that indeed ecologist are interested in the interaction between organisms and between organisms and their abiotic environment. Matthew Fraser says "he's not only interested in how they work". 'How they work' is obviously an extremely inaccurate sentence. A less misleading reformulation would be: I am not interested in everything about the biology of marine animals, "I am especially interested in how animals interact with each other and how they interact with the environment", but obviously that is less exciting for the reader. The goal of Matthew I guess was to create the interest and the excitation of the reader (or audience) on ecology and for this purpose he kinda implied as ecology being more than biology, while ecology is only a subfield of biology.

For more information, wikipedia is your friend!

Yes, there is overlap and the line is rather fuzzy. As a distinct discipline within biology, ecology is a fairly young science. The word itself did not exist until 1866.

Biology is focused on living things usually at the organismal level or smaller (organs, cells, proteins, biochemistry, etc.) Generally when biologists consider abiotic factors, it is how those factors affect an organism (water, light, air needed to live). Ecology usually looks at the organismal level and higher (species, population, community, etc.). Ecologists also study the two-way interaction between biotic and abiotic factors, how organisms change their habitat, and how the habitat changes the population.

Modern biology is such a large subject that most scientists will specialize in a sub-field such as botany, zoology, genetics, etc. One of those sub-fields is ecology, but ecology is also interdisciplinary and draws from fields beyond biology like chemistry, geology, climatology, etc.

A biologist might study one or two species of fish in a lake and the plants they feed on. An ecologist might study the lake itself, how the water got there, how an invasive species is changing the lake's biodiversity.

Population Ecology

A population is a group of interbreeding organisms found in the same place at the same time. Population ecology studies the dynamics of populations and how populations interact with the environment. There are a number of characteristics of populations that help ecologist and other scientists to monitor and manage wild populations. Population density, abundance, distribution, age structure and sex ratio are important characteristics which can be monitored for good population management.

Biological Sciences (Conservation Biology and Ecology) (BS) Accelerated Program

Ecology is the study of the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the physical environment. Conservation biology is an applied science based on ecological principles that focuses on conserving biological diversity and on restoring degraded ecosystems.

Arizona State University is committed to a more sustainable world and sharing knowledge of conservation biology and ecology through the BS program in biological sciences with a concentration in conservation biology and ecology is one critical component to help meet this global challenge.

Conservation biologists at ASU investigate the impact of humans on Earth's biodiversity and develop practical approaches to prevent the extinction of species and promote the sustainable use of biological resources. Some investigate the causes of ecosystem degradation and use ecological principles to reestablish desired conditions in a variety of ecosystems, including rivers, wetlands, grasslands, urban landscapes and forests.

Due to the high volume of overlap in curriculum, students enrolled in this degree are not permitted to declare a concurrent degree combination with any other program within the School of Life Sciences. Students should speak with their academic advisor for any further questions.

248 Ecology of Ecosystems

By the end of this section, you will be able to do the following:

  • Describe the basic ecosystem types
  • Explain the methods that ecologists use to study ecosystem structure and dynamics
  • Identify the different methods of ecosystem modeling
  • Differentiate between food chains and food webs and recognize the importance of each

Life in an ecosystem is often about competition for limited resources, a characteristic of the theory of natural selection. Competition in communities (all living things within specific habitats) is observed both within species and among different species. The resources for which organisms compete include organic material, sunlight, and mineral nutrients, which provide the energy for living processes and the matter to make up organisms’ physical structures. Other critical factors influencing community dynamics are the components of its physical and geographic environment: a habitat’s latitude, amount of rainfall, topography (elevation), and available species. These are all important environmental variables that determine which organisms can exist within a particular area.

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms and their interactions with their abiotic (nonliving) environment. Ecosystems can be small, such as the tide pools found near the rocky shores of many oceans, or large, such as the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil ((Figure)).

There are three broad categories of ecosystems based on their general environment: freshwater, ocean water, and terrestrial. Within these broad categories are individual ecosystem types based on the organisms present and the type of environmental habitat.

Ocean ecosystems are the most common, comprising over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and consisting of three basic types: shallow ocean, deep ocean water, and deep ocean surfaces (the low depth areas of the deep oceans). The shallow ocean ecosystems include extremely biodiverse coral reef ecosystems, and the deep ocean surface is known for its large numbers of plankton and krill (small crustaceans) that support it. These two environments are especially important to aerobic respirators worldwide as the phytoplankton perform 40 percent of all photosynthesis on Earth. Although not as diverse as the other two, deep ocean ecosystems contain a wide variety of marine organisms. Such ecosystems exist even at the bottom of the ocean where light is unable to penetrate through the water.

Freshwater ecosystems are the rarest, occurring on only 1.8 percent of the Earth’s surface. Lakes, rivers, streams, and springs comprise these systems. They are quite diverse, and they support a variety of fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects, phytoplankton, fungi, and bacteria.

Terrestrial ecosystems, also known for their diversity, are grouped into large categories called biomes, such as tropical rain forests, savannas, deserts, coniferous forests, deciduous forests, and tundra. Grouping these ecosystems into just a few biome categories obscures the great diversity of the individual ecosystems within them. For example, there is great variation in desert vegetation: the saguaro cacti and other plant life in the Sonoran Desert, in the United States, are relatively abundant compared to the desolate rocky desert of Boa Vista, an island off the coast of Western Africa ((Figure)).

Ecosystems are complex with many interacting parts. They are routinely exposed to various disturbances, or changes in the environment that effect their compositions: yearly variations in rainfall and temperature and the slower processes of plant growth, which may take several years. Many of these disturbances result from natural processes. For example, when lightning causes a forest fire and destroys part of a forest ecosystem, the ground is eventually populated by grasses, then by bushes and shrubs, and later by mature trees, restoring the forest to its former state. The impact of environmental disturbances caused by human activities is as important as the changes wrought by natural processes. Human agricultural practices, air pollution, acid rain, global deforestation, overfishing, eutrophication, oil spills, and waste dumping on land and into the ocean are all issues of concern to conservationists.

Equilibrium is the steady state of an ecosystem where all organisms are in balance with their environment and with each other. In ecology, two parameters are used to measure changes in ecosystems: resistance and resilience. Resistance is the ability of an ecosystem to remain at equilibrium in spite of disturbances. Resilience is the speed at which an ecosystem recovers equilibrium after being disturbed. Ecosystem resistance and resilience are especially important when considering human impact. The nature of an ecosystem may change to such a degree that it can lose its resilience entirely. This process can lead to the complete destruction or irreversible altering of the ecosystem.

Food Chains and Food Webs

The term “food chain” is sometimes used metaphorically to describe human social situations. Individuals who are considered successful are seen as being at the top of the food chain, consuming all others for their benefit, whereas the less successful are seen as being at the bottom.

The scientific understanding of a food chain is more precise than in its everyday usage. In ecology, a food chain is a linear sequence of organisms through which nutrients and energy pass: primary producers, primary consumers, and higher-level consumers are used to describe ecosystem structure and dynamics. There is a single path through the chain. Each organism in a food chain occupies what is called a trophic level . Depending on their role as producers or consumers, species or groups of species can be assigned to various trophic levels.

In many ecosystems, the bottom of the food chain consists of photosynthetic organisms (plants and/or phytoplankton), which are called primary producers . The organisms that consume the primary producers are herbivores: the primary consumers . Secondary consumers are usually carnivores that eat the primary consumers. Tertiary consumers are carnivores that eat other carnivores. Higher-level consumers feed on the next lower tropic levels, and so on, up to the organisms at the top of the food chain: the apex consumers . In the Lake Ontario food chain shown in (Figure), the Chinook salmon is the apex consumer at the top of this food chain.

One major factor that limits the length of food chains is energy. Energy is lost as heat between each trophic level due to the second law of thermodynamics. Thus, after a limited number of trophic energy transfers, the amount of energy remaining in the food chain may not be great enough to support viable populations at yet a higher trophic level.

The loss of energy between trophic levels is illustrated by the pioneering studies of Howard T. Odum in the Silver Springs, Florida, ecosystem in the 1940s ((Figure)). The primary producers generated 20,819 kcal/m 2 /yr (kilocalories per square meter per year), the primary consumers generated 3368 kcal/m 2 /yr, the secondary consumers generated 383 kcal/m 2 /yr, and the tertiary consumers only generated 21 kcal/m 2 /yr. Thus, there is little energy remaining for another level of consumers in this ecosystem.

There is a one problem when using food chains to accurately describe most ecosystems. Even when all organisms are grouped into appropriate trophic levels, some of these organisms can feed on species from more than one trophic level likewise, some of these organisms can be eaten by species from multiple trophic levels. In other words, the linear model of ecosystems, the food chain, is not completely descriptive of ecosystem structure. A holistic model—which accounts for all the interactions between different species and their complex interconnected relationships with each other and with the environment—is a more accurate and descriptive model for ecosystems. A food web is a graphic representation of a holistic, nonlinear web of primary producers, primary consumers, and higher-level consumers used to describe ecosystem structure and dynamics ((Figure)).

A comparison of the two types of structural ecosystem models shows strength in both. Food chains are more flexible for analytical modeling, are easier to follow, and are easier to experiment with, whereas food web models more accurately represent ecosystem structure and dynamics, and data can be directly used as input for simulation modeling.

Head to this online interactive simulator to investigate food web function. In the Interactive Labs box, under Food Web, click Step 1. Read the instructions first, and then click Step 2 for additional instructions. When you are ready to create a simulation, in the upper-right corner of the Interactive Labs box, click OPEN SIMULATOR.

Two general types of food webs are often shown interacting within a single ecosystem. A grazing food web (such as the Lake Ontario food web in (Figure)) has plants or other photosynthetic organisms at its base, followed by herbivores and various carnivores. A detrital food web consists of a base of organisms that feed on decaying organic matter (dead organisms), called decomposers or detritivores. These organisms are usually bacteria or fungi that recycle organic material back into the biotic part of the ecosystem as they themselves are consumed by other organisms. As all ecosystems require a method to recycle material from dead organisms, most grazing food webs have an associated detrital food web. For example, in a meadow ecosystem, plants may support a grazing food web of different organisms, primary and other levels of consumers, while at the same time supporting a detrital food web of bacteria, fungi, and detrivorous invertebrates feeding off dead plants and animals.

Three-spined Stickleback It is well established by the theory of natural selection that changes in the environment play a major role in the evolution of species within an ecosystem. However, little is known about how the evolution of species within an ecosystem can alter the ecosystem environment. In 2009, Dr. Luke Harmon, from the University of Idaho, published a paper that for the first time showed that the evolution of organisms into subspecies can have direct effects on their ecosystem environment. 1

The three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) is a freshwater fish that evolved from a saltwater fish to live in freshwater lakes about 10,000 years ago, which is considered a recent development in evolutionary time ((Figure)). Over the last 10,000 years, these freshwater fish then became isolated from each other in different lakes. Depending on which lake population was studied, findings showed that these sticklebacks then either remained as one species or evolved into two species. The divergence of species was made possible by their use of different areas of the pond for feeding called micro niches.

Dr. Harmon and his team created artificial pond microcosms in 250-gallon tanks and added muck from freshwater ponds as a source of zooplankton and other invertebrates to sustain the fish. In different experimental tanks they introduced one species of stickleback from either a single-species or double-species lake.

Over time, the team observed that some of the tanks bloomed with algae while others did not. This puzzled the scientists, and they decided to measure the water’s dissolved organic carbon (DOC), which consists of mostly large molecules of decaying organic matter that give pond-water its slightly brownish color. It turned out that the water from the tanks with two-species fish contained larger particles of DOC (and hence darker water) than water with single-species fish. This increase in DOC blocked the sunlight and prevented algal blooming. Conversely, the water from the single-species tank contained smaller DOC particles, allowing more sunlight penetration to fuel the algal blooms.

This change in the environment, which is due to the different feeding habits of the stickleback species in each lake type, probably has a great impact on the survival of other species in these ecosystems, especially other photosynthetic organisms. Thus, the study shows that, at least in these ecosystems, the environment and the evolution of populations have reciprocal effects that may now be factored into simulation models.

Research into Ecosystem Dynamics: Ecosystem Experimentation and Modeling

The study of the changes in ecosystem structure caused by changes in the environment (disturbances) or by internal forces is called ecosystem dynamics . Ecosystems are characterized using a variety of research methodologies. Some ecologists study ecosystems using controlled experimental systems, while some study entire ecosystems in their natural state, and others use both approaches.

A holistic ecosystem model attempts to quantify the composition, interaction, and dynamics of entire ecosystems it is the most representative of the ecosystem in its natural state. A food web is an example of a holistic ecosystem model. However, this type of study is limited by time and expense, as well as the fact that it is neither feasible nor ethical to do experiments on large natural ecosystems. It is difficult to quantify all different species in an ecosystem and the dynamics in their habitat, especially when studying large habitats such as the Amazon Rainforest.

For these reasons, scientists study ecosystems under more controlled conditions. Experimental systems usually involve either partitioning a part of a natural ecosystem that can be used for experiments, termed a mesocosm , or by recreating an ecosystem entirely in an indoor or outdoor laboratory environment, which is referred to as a microcosm . A major limitation to these approaches is that removing individual organisms from their natural ecosystem or altering a natural ecosystem through partitioning may change the dynamics of the ecosystem. These changes are often due to differences in species numbers and diversity and also to environment alterations caused by partitioning (mesocosm) or recreating (microcosm) the natural habitat. Thus, these types of experiments are not totally predictive of changes that would occur in the ecosystem from which they were gathered.

As both of these approaches have their limitations, some ecologists suggest that results from these experimental systems should be used only in conjunction with holistic ecosystem studies to obtain the most representative data about ecosystem structure, function, and dynamics.

Scientists use the data generated by these experimental studies to develop ecosystem models that demonstrate the structure and dynamics of ecosystems. They use three basic types of ecosystem modeling in research and ecosystem management: a conceptual model, an analytical model, and a simulation model. A conceptual model is an ecosystem model that consists of flow charts to show interactions of different compartments of the living and nonliving components of the ecosystem. A conceptual model describes ecosystem structure and dynamics and shows how environmental disturbances affect the ecosystem however, its ability to predict the effects of these disturbances is limited. Analytical and simulation models, in contrast, are mathematical methods of describing ecosystems that are indeed capable of predicting the effects of potential environmental changes without direct experimentation, although with some limitations as to accuracy. An analytical model is an ecosystem model that is created using simple mathematical formulas to predict the effects of environmental disturbances on ecosystem structure and dynamics. A simulation model is an ecosystem model that is created using complex computer algorithms to holistically model ecosystems and to predict the effects of environmental disturbances on ecosystem structure and dynamics. Ideally, these models are accurate enough to determine which components of the ecosystem are particularly sensitive to disturbances, and they can serve as a guide to ecosystem managers (such as conservation ecologists or fisheries biologists) in the practical maintenance of ecosystem health.

Conceptual Models

Conceptual models are useful for describing ecosystem structure and dynamics and for demonstrating the relationships between different organisms in a community and their environment. Conceptual models are usually depicted graphically as flow charts. The organisms and their resources are grouped into specific compartments with arrows showing the relationship and transfer of energy or nutrients between them. Thus, these diagrams are sometimes called compartment models.

To model the cycling of mineral nutrients, organic and inorganic nutrients are subdivided into those that are bioavailable (ready to be incorporated into biological macromolecules) and those that are not. For example, in a terrestrial ecosystem near a deposit of coal, carbon will be available to the plants of this ecosystem as carbon dioxide gas in a short-term period, not from the carbon-rich coal itself. However, over a longer period, microorganisms capable of digesting coal will incorporate its carbon or release it as natural gas (methane, CH4), changing this unavailable organic source into an available one. This conversion is greatly accelerated by the combustion of fossil fuels by humans, which releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is thought to be a major factor in the rise of the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the industrial age. The carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels is produced faster than photosynthetic organisms can use it. This process is intensified by the reduction of photosynthetic trees because of worldwide deforestation. Most scientists agree that high atmospheric carbon dioxide is a major cause of global climate change.

Conceptual models are also used to show the flow of energy through particular ecosystems. (Figure) is based on Howard T. Odum’s classical study of the Silver Springs, Florida, holistic ecosystem in the mid-twentieth century. 2 This study shows the energy content and transfer between various ecosystem compartments.

Why do you think the value for gross productivity of the primary producers is the same as the value for total heat and respiration (20,810 kcal/m 2 /yr)?

Analytical and Simulation Models

The major limitation of conceptual models is their inability to predict the consequences of changes in ecosystem species and/or environment. Ecosystems are dynamic entities and subject to a variety of abiotic and biotic disturbances caused by natural forces and/or human activity. Ecosystems altered from their initial equilibrium state can often recover from such disturbances and return to a state of equilibrium. As most ecosystems are subject to periodic disturbances and are often in a state of change, they are usually either moving toward or away from their equilibrium state. There are many of these equilibrium states among the various components of an ecosystem, which affects the ecosystem overall. Furthermore, as humans have the ability to greatly and rapidly alter the species content and habitat of an ecosystem, the need for predictive models that enable understanding of how ecosystems respond to these changes becomes more crucial.

Analytical models often use simple, linear components of ecosystems, such as food chains, and are known to be complex mathematically therefore, they require a significant amount of mathematical knowledge and expertise. Although analytical models have great potential, their simplification of complex ecosystems is thought to limit their accuracy. Simulation models that use computer programs are better able to deal with the complexities of ecosystem structure.

A recent development in simulation modeling uses supercomputers to create and run individual-based simulations, which accounts for the behavior of individual organisms and their effects on the ecosystem as a whole. These simulations are considered to be the most accurate and predictive of the complex responses of ecosystems to disturbances.

Visit The Darwin Project to view a variety of ecosystem models.

Section Summary

Ecosystems exist on land, at sea, in the air, and underground. Different ways of modeling ecosystems are necessary to understand how environmental disturbances will affect ecosystem structure and dynamics. Conceptual models are useful to show the general relationships between organisms and the flow of materials or energy between them. Analytical models are used to describe linear food chains, and simulation models work best with holistic food webs.

Visual Connection Questions

(Figure) Why do you think the value for gross productivity of the primary producers is the same as the value for total heat and respiration (20,810 kcal/m 2 /yr)?

(Figure) According to the first law of thermodynamics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Eventually, all energy consumed by living systems is lost as heat or used for respiration, and the total energy output of the system must equal the energy that went into it.

Review Questions

The ability of an ecosystem to return to its equilibrium state after an environmental disturbance is called ________.

A re-created ecosystem in a laboratory environment is known as a ________.

Decomposers are associated with which class of food web?

The primary producers in an ocean grazing food web are usually ________.

What term describes the use of mathematical equations in the modeling of linear aspects of ecosystems?

  1. analytical modeling
  2. simulation modeling
  3. conceptual modeling
  4. individual-based modeling

The position of an organism along a food chain is known as its ________.

The loss of an apex consumer would impact which trophic level of a food web?

  1. primary producers
  2. primary consumers
  3. secondary consumers
  4. all of the above

A food chain would be a better resource than a food web to answer which question?

  1. How does energy move from an organism in one trophic level to an organism on the next trophic level?
  2. How does energy move within a trophic level?
  3. What preys on grasses?
  4. How is organic matter recycled in a forest?

Critical Thinking Questions

Compare and contrast food chains and food webs. What are the strengths of each concept in describing ecosystems?

Food webs show interacting groups of different species and their many interconnections with each other and the environment. Food chains are linear aspects of food webs that describe the succession of organisms consuming one another at defined trophic levels. Food webs are a more accurate representation of the structure and dynamics of an ecosystem. Food chains are easier to model and use for experimental studies.

Describe freshwater, ocean, and terrestrial ecosystems.

Freshwater ecosystems are the rarest, but have great diversity of freshwater fish and other aquatic life. Ocean ecosystems are the most common and are responsible for much of the photosynthesis that occurs on Earth. Terrestrial ecosystems are very diverse they are grouped based on their species and environment (biome), which includes forests, deserts, and tundras.

Compare grazing and detrital food webs. Why would they both be present in the same ecosystem?

Grazing food webs have a primary producer at their base, which is either a plant for terrestrial ecosystems or a phytoplankton for aquatic ecosystems. The producers pass their energy to the various trophic levels of consumers. At the base of detrital food webs are the decomposers, which pass this energy to a variety of other consumers. Detrital food webs are important for the health of many grazing food webs because they eliminate dead and decaying organic material, thus, clearing space for new organisms and removing potential causes of disease. By breaking down dead organic matter, decomposers also make mineral nutrients available to primary producers this process is a vital link in nutrient cycling.

How does the microcosm modeling approach differ from utilizing a holistic model for ecological research?

In a microcosm model, an ecologist recreates an ecosystem in a controlled environment. Since the ecologist is populating the environment, he can control the variables and the different species involved in the study to ask specific questions.

How do conceptual and analytical models of ecosystems compliment each other?

Conceptual models allow ecologists to see the “big picture” of how different components of the ecosystem interact with each other, energy sources, and resources. However, this approach is more descriptive than quantitative, so it is difficult to make conclusions about the resistance or resilience of a system. Analytical modeling creates a model that can predict how the ecosystem’s relationships will change in response to disturbances, but does not convey the complexity of the relationships seen with conceptual modeling.


    Nature (Vol. 458, April 1, 2009) Howard T. Odum, “Trophic Structure and Productivity of Silver Springs, Florida,” Ecological Monographs 27, no. 1 (1957): 47–112.


Requirements for the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biology

Any one of CHEM 4410, 4420 or 4440 can substitute for BIOL 3030. Students who complete both CHEM 4410 and 4420 may apply 6 credits towards the Biology BS major.

The requirements for the Biology B.S. degree are summarized below. For a concise listing of these requirements, please refer to the BIOLOGY B.S. CHECKLIST.


Introduction to Biology

The Biology Department offers a two-semester introductory sequence of courses that combine both lecture and laboratory components: BIOL 2100 & 2200. These courses are required for biology majors and partially satisfy most prehealth biology requirements. Biology AP Credit: Students who scored a 5 on the AP Biology examination, or at least a 6 on upper-level examinations in the International Baccalaureate Program, receive 8 credit hours for BIOL 2100 and BIOL 2200. Students who have completed BME 2104 with a minimal grade of C- are exempt from taking BIOL 2100. Note that credit for BME 2104 does not provide actual credit for BIOL 2100. (Note: BME 2104 does not count towards the 102 credits in the College required for the degree, and it does not satisfy the Natural Science and Mathematics requirement for the College.)

Biology B.S. majors are required to complete two semesters of general chemistry with lab, as well as two semesters of organic chemistry lecture courses. The general chemistry requirement may be satisfied by completing CHEM 1410, 1420, 1411, and 1421 (or CHEM 1610, 1611, 1620, 1621). Students with AP chemistry credit for 1410 and 1420 must still complete the laboratory courses (1411 plus 1421, or two higher level lab courses). The organic chemistry requirement may be satisfied by completing CHEM 2410 and 2420. Although organic labs are not required for the Biology B.S., students who are planning a career in the biological sciences are strongly advised to include the organic chemistry labs (CHEM 2411 and 2421 or CHEM 2311 and 2321). Note that students who opt not to take the organic chemistry labs may need to petition the chemistry department in order to enroll in organic lecture without enrolling in the associated lab.

Alternatively, students may fulfill the entire B.S. chemistry requirement by completing the chemistry majors’ sequence (CHEM 1810, 1820, 2810, 2820), along with at least 2 semesters of any of the associated labs.

Math and Physics

Biology B.S. majors are required to complete biostatistics (STAT 2020*), as well as one course in calculus (MATH 1190, 1210, 1220, 1310, or 1320). The physics requirement may be met with any one of the following courses: PHYS 1425, PHYS 1610/1710, PHYS 2010. Students who are planning a career in the biological sciences are strongly advised to take two semesters of physics with labs (e.g., PHYS 2010 & 2030 PHYS 2020 & 2040).

*AP credit for STAT 2120 or STAT 1120 may be used in place of STAT 2020 to satisfy this requirement. Also, students who enter UVA with (pre-matriculation) transfer credit for STAT 2120 or STAT 1120 may use that credit to satisfy the biostatistics requirement.

Biology "Core" Course Requirements

Biology B.S. majors are required to complete BIOL 3000 (Cell Biology), BIOL 3010 (Genetics & Molecular Biology), BIOL 3020 (Evolution & Ecology), BIOL 3030 (Biochemistry), ***BIOL 3040 (Developmental & Regenerative Biology)*** and BIOL 3050 (Introduction to Neurobiology). These courses must be taken at UVA post-matriculation transfer credit for these courses may not be applied to satisfy any B.S. core course requirement. Students who complete both CHEM 4410 and CHEM 4420 may apply 3 credits to satisfy the B.S. requirement for BIOL 3030.

A student who receives a single 'F' in any of the B.S.-specific core courses (BIOL 3030, 3040, 3050) must meet with her/his Biology major advisor in order to discuss plans for successfully completing the major. This meeting should take place no later than the end of the first full week of the semester after the 'F' was received. Neglecting to meet with a faculty advisor will result in the student being dropped from the Biology major. A student who receives two 'F's in any of the B.S.-specific core courses will be ineligible to continue in the Biology B.S. major however, the student may be eligible to re-declare and complete a Biology B.A. major.

Biology Laboratory Course Requirements

Biology B.S. majors are required to complete at least 6 hours (min. 3-credit courses) of BIOL laboratory course work at or above the 3000 level. The lab requirement may be satisfied by any combination of the following options:

· a 3- or 4-credit departmental laboratory course

· any 3000-level or higher field course at Mountain Lake Biological Station

· two semesters (4 credits) of Independent Research (BIOL 4910/4920), conducted under the direction of the same faculty mentor

Note: A maximum of 4 credits of Independent Research may be applied toward the laboratory course requirement. And, summer research, unless enrolled in BIOL 4910-4920, does not satisfy the upper-level lab requirement, and lab courses offered by other departments, unless cross-listed as BIOL courses, do not fulfill the Biology major laboratory requirement.

Upper-Level (4000-level) Biology Course Requirements

Biology B.S. majors must complete 9 additional elective credits in biology at the 4000-level (or above) biology courses (≥ 3 credits). The following options may be used to fulfill this requirement:

· 3- or 4- credit departmental lecture or seminar courses

· 3- or 4- credit departmental laboratory courses

· Independent Research (BIOL 4910/4920, 2 semesters in the same laboratory: 4 credits) taken beyond those used to satisfy the laboratory requirement

· Distinguished Major Seminar (BIOL 4810 & 4820, 2 semesters: 4 credits)

· up to 6 credits from 4000- or 5000-level biology-related courses in the Environmental Sciences Department (List of Biology-related Environmental Sciences Courses)


Only the first semester of Human Anatomy & Physiology I (BIOL 3410) may be applied toward the Biology major. BIOL 3410 also satisfies the upper level lab requirement and the Area II requirement. The second semester of Human Anatomy & Physiology II (BIOL 3420) cannot be applied toward the Biology major, but can be used as college elective credit and contribute to the overall GPA.

For students who are double-majors in Biology and another department/program: “No more than two courses can be counted simultaneously for two non-interdisciplinary majors an interdisciplinary major may share up to three courses with another major.” (See Number of Credits on the Declaring a Major page.)

Transfer credits for courses taken at another institution after matriculation at the University of Virginia may be considered for outside elective credit toward the Biology major however, required core (BIOL 3000, 3010, 3020, 3030, 3040 and 3050) and lab courses must be taken at the University of Virginia. (See Biology Undergraduate FAQpage .)

Grade Point Average

The overall GPA for courses presented for the B.S. degree must be at least 2.000. These courses consist of: BIOL 3000, BIOL 3010, BIOL 3020, BIOL 3030, BIOL 3040, BIOL 3050, 6 credits of laboratory course work, and 9 credits of 4000-level elective BIOL courses.

Declaring a Biology B.S. Major

In order to declare a B.S. major in Biology, students must have completed all three B.A. core courses: BIOL 3000, 3010 and 3020, and attained a cumulative 2.700 GPA in these three courses. For information about this eligibility requirement and the procedure for declaring the B.S. major in Biology, please see Declaring a Biology Major. Please note that the three prerequisite courses (BIOL 3000, 3010, 3020) must be completed before the semester you plan to graduate. In other words, it will not be possible to change to the B.S. major if you have not completed the B.S. degree prerequisites prior to the February 1 st application deadline for a May graduation.

Summary of Biology B.S. Major Requirements

· CHEM 1410 & 1411 (or CHEM 1610 & 1611 or CHEM 1810 & 1811)

· CHEM 1420 & 1421 (or CHEM 1620 & 1621 or CHEM 1820 & 1821)

· MATH 1190, 1210, 1220, 1310, or 1320

· one semester Physics (PHYS 1425, 1610 /1710, or 2010)

Major Courses (33 credits*):

Required Core Courses:

Laboratory Courses:

· two laboratory courses 6 cr.

o 2 departmental lab courses
o 1 departmental lab course + 1 field course at MLBS
o 1 departmental lab course + 2 semesters Independent Research
o 2 field courses at MLBS
o 1 field course at MLBS + 2 semesters Independent Research

4000-level Courses:

· BIOL 4XXX elective 3 cr.

*Actual total degree credit hours might exceed 34, if laboratory or other elective courses carry 4 credits.

Difference Between Ecology and Environmentalism

If one looks at the definitions of ecology and environmentalism, one finds that they are closely relayed to each other as both talk about the nature of our environment. This makes people think that ecology and environmentalism are similar, if not synonyms for each other. However, they are not same, but because of the growing concern of all of us save our environment, it is natural for the two concepts to get mixed up. This article will try to highlight the differences between ecology and environmentalism to remove doubts from the minds of the readers.

Ecology is a study of the relationship of living organisms with their surroundings and the sustenance that comes from the atmosphere. This naturally includes study of energy (sun), gases, light and heat which is the subject matter of physics. It also includes study of influences of living organisms on each other, which demands, study of biology as well. There are other fields that are required to be studied while studying ecology. These include geology, chemistry, oceanography, environmental science and so on.

It was German scientist Earnst Heinrich who first coined the term ecology that in original terms literally means the economy of nature. Since then, the academic discipline of ecology has gone on to encompass more and more aspects and today it has become so vast that it is divided into 4 categories of physiological ecology, population ecology, community ecology, and ecosystem ecology. There are many more subdivisions in these categories as well, and we keep hearing newer terms coined such as cultural ecology, agricultural ecology, and so on.


Environmentalism is a term that has gained currency because of our concern for the environment. The rate at which we are depleting natural resources, and losing vegetation through deforestation, is so fast that it has started to show up in the form of ecological disasters. Environmentalism is basically a social movement of people coming together in an endeavor to do something to save our environment. The main focus of environmentalists is on different ecosystems and how our interactions affect these ecosystems and ultimately the ecology. These people work to save our environment from the harmful effects of human interactions with ecosystems.

Environmentalism is therefore, confined to humans as environmentalists feel that all degradation of ecology is taking place because of mankind’s greed and eagerness to make use of natural resources of the world.

Difference Between Ecology and Environmentalism

• Ecology is concerned with how organisms interact with each other and their surroundings. On the other hand, environmentalism is concerned with the harmful effects of human activities on the environment.

• Environmentalism is basically a social movement whereas ecology is an academic discipline

• Ecology is a vast subject matter that requires study of various disciplines like physics, chemistry, geology, biology, and so on whereas environmentalism mainly studies the effects of human interaction with ecology and how to minimize that harmful effect.

Types of Biogeography

There are three main fields of biogeography: 1) historical, 2) ecological, and 3) conservation biogeography. Each addresses the distribution of species from a different perspective. Historical biogeography primarily involves animal distributions from an evolutionary perspective. Studies of historical biogeography involve the investigation of phylogenic distributions over time. Ecological biogeography refers to the study of the contributing factors for the global distribution of plant and animal species. Some examples of ecological factors that are commonly studied include climate, habitat, and primary productivity (the rate at which the plants in a particular ecosystem produce the net chemical energy). Moreover, ecological biogeography differs from historical biogeography in that it involves the short-term distribution of various organisms, rather than the long-term changes over evolutionary periods. Conservation biogeography seeks to effectively manage the current level of biodiversity throughout the world by providing policymakers with data and potential concerns regarding conservation biology.

Organismal Ecology and Population Ecology

Organismal and population ecology study the adaptations that allow organisms to live in a habitat and organisms’ relationships to one another.

Learning Objectives

Describe populations as studied in population ecology and organisms as studied in organismal ecology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Organismal ecology focuses on the morphological, physiological, and behavioral adaptations that let an organism survive in a specific habitat.
  • Population ecology studies the number of individuals in an area, as well as how and why their population size changes over time.
  • The Karner blue butterfly, an endangered species, makes a good model for both organismal and population ecology since it is dependent, as a population, on a specific plant that grows within specific areas, which, thus, influences butterfly distribution and numbers.

Key Terms

  • conspecific: an organism belonging to the same species as another
  • population: a collection of organisms of a particular species, sharing a particular characteristic of interest, most often that of living in a given area
  • oviposit: to lay eggs

Organismal Ecology

Karner blue butterfly: The Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) is a rare butterfly that lives only in open areas with few trees or shrubs, such as pine barrens and oak savannas. It can only lay its eggs on lupine plants.

Researchers studying ecology at the organismal level are interested in the adaptations that enable individuals to live in specific habitats. These adaptations can be morphological (pertaining to the study of form or structure), physiological, and behavioral. For instance, the Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) is considered a specialist because the females preferentially oviposit (that is, lay eggs) on wild lupine. This preferential adaptation means that the Karner blue butterfly is highly dependent on the presence of wild lupine plants for its continued survival.

Wild lupine: The wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) is the host plant for the Karner blue butterfly.

After hatching, the larval caterpillars emerge to spend four to six weeks feeding solely on wild lupine. The caterpillars pupate (undergo metamorphosis), emerging as butterflies after about four weeks. The adult butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers of wild lupine and other plant species. A researcher interested in studying Karner blue butterflies at the organismal level might, in addition to asking questions about egg laying, ask questions about the butterflies’ preferred temperature (a physiological question) or the behavior of the caterpillars when they are at different larval stages (a behavioral question).

Population Ecology

A population is a group of interbreeding organisms that are members of the same species living in the same area at the same time. Organisms that are all members of the same species, a population, are called conspecifics. A population is identified, in part, by where it lives its area of population may have natural or artificial boundaries. Natural boundaries might be rivers, mountains, or deserts, while examples of artificial boundaries include mowed grass or manmade structures such as roads. The study of population ecology focuses on the number of individuals in an area and how and why population size changes over time. Population ecologists are particularly interested in counting the Karner blue butterfly, for example, because it is classified as federally endangered. However, the distribution and density of this species is highly influenced by the distribution and abundance of wild lupine. Researchers might ask questions about the factors leading to the decline of wild lupine and how these affect Karner blue butterflies. For example, ecologists know that wild lupine thrives in open areas where trees and shrubs are largely absent. In natural settings, intermittent wildfires regularly remove trees and shrubs, helping to maintain the open areas that wild lupine requires. Mathematical models can be used to understand how wildfire suppression by humans has led to the decline of this important plant for the Karner blue butterfly.

Biological Sciences vs Biology

Your experience of studying life sciences before university usually involves studying a wide range of topics under the broad umbrella of &ldquoBiology&rdquo, but at degree level, you&rsquore invited to specialise a little further.

Biology, Biological Sciences and Biomedical Sciences all cover a broad range of interesting topics and open up a world of exciting career options. Plus all three areas offer a lot of flexibility and choice, so you can personalise your degree as you study and your interests develop.

Each course gives you the chance to undertake an independent research project, experience an industrial placement or study year abroad.

The choice very much depends on your personal interests, so consider what you have enjoyed studying the most so far and where you think you&rsquod like to take your studies in the future.


Are you interested in whole organism biology how microbes, plants and animals function? Are you fascinated by how organisms interact with each other and their environments? Do you want to understand organismal evolution and genetics? Biology might be the route for you.

Our BSc Biology course is a broad-based degree with an emphasis on organismal biology.

You&rsquoll gain an understanding of biology at many different levels, from the molecular biology of the cell, through how animals and plants function as organisms, to their ecological interactions with each other and the environment.

The core subject areas you&rsquoll study throughout your degree will include genetics, animal biology, plant biology and ecology/evolution.

From your second year you can choose to specialise in areas such as ecology, behaviour and conservation biology, or in the molecular and genetic aspect, which gives you chance to develop broad knowledge as well as graduating with a specialism.

If your interests lie specifically within one of those areas, you should consider one of our more specialist biology degrees, such as Ecology and Conservation Biology, Zoology or Genetics.

Career options: Biology graduates can go down a number of career paths, students from Biology have gone on to be a:

  • Research Bioscientist
  • Wildlife Film Maker
  • Biocontamination Technician
  • Senior Species Ecologist
  • Senior Plant Health and Seeds Inspector
  • Policy Adviser: International Biodiversity
  • Epidemiologist

Biological Sciences

Do you want to study a broad range of topics across molecular and cellular life sciences? Do you love to analyse and apply yourself in the lab? Biological Sciences might be your best option.

You&rsquoll gain a thorough understanding of how living cells work, from generating energy to adapting to changes in their environment, and understand the science underpinning globally important topics including emerging infections, how drugs work, the role of our genome in determining our health, and use of genetic engineering techniques to maintain food production in response to climate change.

You&rsquoll study a wide range of organisms, from viruses to humans, and study a variety of topics including cell biology, biochemistry, genetics, immunology and microbiology in your broad first year. This breadth of learning gives you lots of flexibility and choice, with options to transfer onto a more specialised degree such as Genetics or Microbiology.

In your second year and beyond you&rsquoll follow one of four themes: Molecular Medicine Infection and Disease Genome Biology and Disease or Plants and Agriculture to allow you to tailor your studies to your particular area of interest.

Career options: Biological Sciences graduates can use their skills and knowledge to enter into lots of roles, including:

  • Research & Development Scientist
  • Molecular Biologist
  • Scientific Advisor
  • Biotechnology Specialist
  • Clinical Research Associate
  • Medical Sales representative
  • Postgraduate Medicine
  • Corporate Audit graduate trainee

If your interests in life science include whole organism as well as molecular aspects, and you would like to study topics such as ecology, animal behaviour, animal/plant physiology and evolution, then BSc Biology may be your best choice.

In contrast, BSc Biological Sciences is a degree that focuses on understanding biology at the molecular and cellular levels. If this is what you are interested in, then this degree may be your best choice.

Career Options With Your Degree*

  • Associate Degree:Environmental Technician, Agricultural Technician, Food Science Technician, Laboratory Technician
  • Bachelor's Degree:Forensic Scientist, Microbiologist, Zoologist, Conservationist, Environmental Scientist, Biological Technician, Biologist, Food and Drug Inspector, Laboratory Technologist
  • Master's Degree: Microbiologist, Zoologist, Biologist
  • Doctoral Degree: Professor, Microbiologist, Zoologist, Biologist

* Includes only career options for those who graduate with a degree in biology. This does not include options that require earning an additional degree.

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