Fresh water ecology is a branch of ecology which deals with fresh water ecosystems. For us to have an understanding of the subject there is a need to first understand the meaning of ecology.
Ecology is a branch of environmental science which focuses on the examination of living organisms in the natural environment.
It is concerned with how organisms interact with the environment and each other, and the e complex and interconnected systems which influence life on Earth.
Ecology has a number of sub disciplines, which deal with specific topics of interest, such as the relationship between humans and the natural environment.
Researchers in ecology study individuals, populations, communities, and entire ecosystems. At each level, there are more things to learn about.
The natural environment is usually heavily interconnected such that researchers can focus on a single population of plants or animals, for example, and find much fodder for study, ranging from how that population shapes the physical environment to how other organisms interact with it.
Ecologists are often interested in looking at entire ecosystems, and studying all of the organisms which live in them and influence them.
Each ecosystem is characterized by unique plant and animal species which have adapted to the environment and each other, and studying this can provide scientists with information about the history of that ecosystem, and the evolutionary roots of the animals which live there. Ecology can also be studied in urban environments.
The study of ecology is not limited to the terrestrial environment; marine environments, lakes, and streams can also provide a great deal of food for thought and inspiration for study.
The marine environment in particular is not very well understood, with researchers constantly finding that there is more to learn about the ocean, the creatures which live there, and its underlying geography and geology.
For example, for centuries people assumed that the bottom of the ocean was inactive and bleak, but in the 20th century, researchers discovered areas of biological activity around hydrothermal vents, with organisms which had adapted to the dark, high pressure, low oxygen environment of the deep sea.
Fresh Water Ecology
Freshwater ecology is a specialized subcategory of the overall study of ecology that is concerned with the study of fresh water organisms and their environment.
By studying the plants and animals in a body of water as well as the components of the water itself, a scientist specializing in freshwater ecology can discover vital information about the health and needs of a freshwater system.
Rather than study the vast world of saltwater like marine ecologists, scientists that work in freshwater ecology concentrate on the ecosystems of bodies of non-brackish water, such as lakes, ponds, and streams.
Some may also work in wetland environments where the water is primarily fresh. The information that freshwater ecologists gather can be helpful to conservation efforts for plants and animals, but also provides data that can affect humans as well.
In the study of freshwater ecology, scientists attempt to get accurate ideas of how a body of fresh water goes about its daily existence. Every detail, from the microbial creatures busily creating algae, to the large reptilian or avian predators present, affects the life of the ecosystem.
New factors can disrupt and reorganize the ecosystem dramatically, and can range from an introduced exotic species, chemical runoff from a new industrial plant, or even increased usage if the lake becomes a tourist spot.
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By understanding how this body of water behaves under normal circumstances, freshwater ecologists can make an educated guess as to how new factors will sometimes affect the local environment.
For conservation efforts, freshwater ecology can give roughly accurate ideas of how populations of plants or animals are surviving in their environment. This can help determine whether a fading species is given protective status by governing bodies, or whether an already endangered species is recovering due to conservation efforts.
Although most of the work is based on probabilities and population graphs rather than literal census taking, freshwater ecologists can give a fairly clear picture of which way a species is going, and identify key factors that determine its situation.
Humans benefit from the studies of freshwater ecology as well. As the largest component of the ecosystem, the water is constantly tested and analyzed for important data such as chemical composition and possible hazards.
The work of freshwater ecologists can be used to determine the viability of a new drinking water source, or test a current water source for possible contamination. By protecting drinking water sources, freshwater ecologists are contributing not only to the good of the environment, but the good of their own species as well.
The Scope of Fresh Water Ecology
From the discussion so far, it is obvious that the subject of fresh water ecology is concerned with the study of organisms in fresh waters, as well as their interactions with themselves and their environment.
The study of ecology in freshwater is usually divided into 2 categories, lentic (still) and lotic (running) water. These two bodies of water also have a bearing on which organisms are likely to occupy the area.
Specifically, the following, among others, can be identified as constituting the major areas of concern of this course.
Identification of the various species of organisms that inhabit fresh waters. This therefore includes all the plant and animal species that are found in fresh water communities.
It also includes all the algae, the micro invertebrates, fungi, and tiny organisms that occur, and form part of the fresh water ecosystems. Also of interest here is an understanding of the structure, and characteristics of the fresh water ecosystem.
The various forms of interactions that occur within these ecosystems are also of interest in this course. Interactions between the different plant and animal species in terms of feeding relationships or energy transfer, as well as material cycling are considered here.
Another area of concern here is the influence of human activities in altering, or bringing about changes in fresh water ecosystems. Human activities often result in changes in species composition, and sometimes the water quality of the ecosystem.
Such often result in pollution of the water, which if not ameliorated negatively affect the health of the organisms of the fresh water. Human activities have sometimes resulted in eutrophication and alteration of salinity levels of affected fresh waters.
Also within the scope of fresh water ecology is the aspect of fresh water aquaculture systems and affluent control.
This is examined as an attempt to manage fresh water ecosystems, by properly utilizing such waters not only in terms of pollution control, but also with respect to provision of food for human population.
This is also aimed at ensuring a health environment for the fresh water organisms, as well as human beings which exploit the environment for their livelihood.
Wetlands and catchment management are also significant in the study of fresh water ecology. The nature and significance of wetlands is of concern here. The management of catchment areas also constitutes a major area of concern for fresh water ecologists.