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Basic Terms to Know for Ecology

NOTE: These are NOT the only terms you should know for Ecology, but it is
a good start
Food Web
On many of the Ecology tests, you may be given around a dozen organisms which you need to
organize into a food web. For 2010, the theme is grasslands and taiga, so you should have a
general idea of the organisms that inhabit both areas, and which organisms consume others (ex.
shrub -> shrew -> snake -> hawk). It is also very important to know how a change in the population
of one organism will affect other organisms in the food web.

Trophic pyramid for grasslands

Trophic Pyramid
Like food webs, trophic pyramids are also commonly found on Ecology tests. These diagrams are
designed to show the comparative biological productivity for each level of the food chain. That is, as
one gets further up the food chain, the energy gained from that level decreases by about 10%. An
example trophic pyramid is shown at right.

Ecology Definitions
Know how to apply all of the below terms to defining variables, analyzing data from graphs and
tables, presenting data in graphs and tables, forming hypotheses, and making calculations and

Succession: The replacement of one community by another, developing toward a climax

Primary: The ecological succession of vegetation that occurs in passing from barren earth
or water to a climax community
Secondary: The development of biotic communities in an area where the natural vegetation
has been removed or destroyed but where soil is present
More Terms

Extinction: No remaining living organisms; gone forever

Selection: In the context of evolution, certain traits or alleles of a species may be subject to
selection. Under selection, individuals with advantageous or "adaptive" traits tend to be more
successful than their peers reproductively--meaning they contribute more offspring to the
succeeding generation than others do
Natural: The differential survival and reproduction of organisms with genetic characteristics
that enable them to better utilize environmental resources
Stabilizing: Stabilizing selection is a type of natural selection in which genetic diversity
decreases as the population stabilizes on a particular trait
Disruptive: Disruptive selection is a type of natural selection that simultaneously favors
individuals at both extremes of the distribution. When disruptive selection operates,
individuals at the extremes contribute more offspring than those in the center, producing two
peaks in the distribution of a particular trait
Directional: In population genetics, directional selection occurs when natural selection
favors a single allele and therefore allele frequency continuously shift in one direction.
Artificial: The process in which breeders choose the variants to be used to produce
succeeding generations

Limiting Factors: A factor that limits a population's growth; i.e. resources, shelter, food and

Biodiversity: The number and variety of organisms within one region (biome)
Ecology Graphs and Charts
Survival Curves
Graph of the probability of survival (y-axis) versus time (x-axis). Some basic life history strategies
can be seen from the basic shape of this graph. Type I organisms have lower mortality rate at low
ages which gradually increases with age. Type II organisms have mortality rates that stay the same
throughout life. Type III organisms have the largest mortality rates at birth. Most survival curves are
combinations of more than one type of organism. The three general shapes can be seen below.

Life Table
An age-specific death schedule. Such a schedule is often converted to a more palatable survivorship
schedule. For each age interval there is an predicted life expectancy or survivorship. From a life
table, one can produce a survival curve.
Biomes: See a biome resource

Population Growth
Population growth deals with how the size of a population changes over time. One more thing:
HUMANS DON'T HAVE EXPONENTIAL GROWTH (it's pretty close though)
Intrinsic rate of growth (r-max) is the rate of growth under ideal conditions (in red below).

Exponential growth occurs when the growth rate remains the same while the population grows.
It creates a J shaped curve (shown)
Logistic growth occurs when the growth rate decreases as the population grows due to density-
dependent factors (factors increasing mortality rate as population grows such as predation rates,
competition, and disease). This creates an S-shaped curve (shown in blue below). It is the most
common type of population growth.
Determining the Population Growth

Logistical Growth (the most common): dN/dt = rmaxN((K - N)/(K))

Where dN/dt is basically the change in population divided by change in time, and K being the
carrying capacity, and rmax being the maximum growth rate (biotic potential of the organisms) (rmax
is sometimes just r). N is population size.

Exponential Growth (less common): P(t) = P(initial)e^(rt)

Life History Strategies

Age of reproduction: The average age in an organism when it becomes capable of
reproduction (For example, population A might have many more members than population B.
However, all the members of A might be post-reproductive, whereas population B might consist
of mostly pre-reproductive and reproductive age individuals. Population A might be in danger of
r-selected organisms: Put most of their energy into rapid growth and reproduction. This is
common of organisms that occupy unpredictable environments, e.g. weeds are usually
annuals with rapid growth and early reproduction. They produce large number of seeds
containing few stored nutrients
K-selected organisms: Put most of their energy into growth. They are common in stable
environments near carrying capacity, e.g. long lived trees such as redwoods take many
years of growth to reach reproductive age

Geographic Range: Where the members of a species' populations live, feed, and reproduce.
Geographic ranges can change due to the establishment and extinction of species.
Cosmopolitan Species: Species that have ranges that stretch over several continents.
Endemic Species: Species that have ranges that are isolated to a small area on a single

Types of Movement: There are two main types of movement that organisms do.
Active Movement: Movement that requires an organism to use some appendage to move
(walking, flying, swimming, etc).
Passive Movement: Movement in which an organism uses an external force to cause
transit (wind, water, etc).

Seed Dispersal: The method by which a plant scatters its offspring away from the parent plant
to reduce competition. Methods include: wind, insects, animals, tension, and water. Seed
dispersal is a form of passive movement.
Wind: Some seeds are carried to a new place by the wind. These seeds are very light. The
seeds of the orchid are almost as fine as dust. Many have hairy growths which act like little
parachutes and carry the seeds far away from the parent plant.
Water: Fruits which float such as those of the water lily and the coconut palm are carried by
water. Coconuts can travel for thousands of kilometers across seas and oceans. The
original coconut palms on South Sea islands grew from fruits which were carried there from
the mainland by ocean currents.
Animals/Insects: The animal eats the fruit but only the juicy part is digested. The stones
and pips pass through the animal's digestive system and are excreted to form new plants.
This can be far away from the parent plant.
Explosions/Tension/Mechanical: Some plants have pods that explode when ripe and
shoot out the seeds. Lupins, gorse and broom scatter their seeds in this way. Pea and bean
plants also keep their seeds in a pod. When the seeds are ripe and the pod has dried, the
pod bursts open and the peas and beans are scattered.
Fire: To survive fire some plants have adaptive traits that allow them to reproduce or
regenerate. An adaptive trait is a behavior, physical feature or some other characteristic that
helps a plant or animal survive and make the most of its habitat. When fire occurs, animals
have the ability to fly, run away or burrow deep into the ground. Plants cannot do this and so
have adapted other ways of surviving. The way a plant stores its seeds and disperses them
is an example of a fire adaptive strategy. The intensity of the fire is crucial to the seeds
dispersal (it is important the fire reaches the right temperature). Also important is how often
the fires occur.