When did ecology, the science, really begin? Ecology is rooted in the Greek word oikos, referring to home, and the word was not invented until the second part of the nineteenth century, when the German zoologist Ernst Haeckel1 used it in 1866, seven years after Charles Darwin published his most famous and influential work, On the Origin of Species. Haeckel meant the word to mean roughly the “household of nature,” or the “economy of nature,” a term Darwin had used in the Origin in his description of natural selection. Darwin wrote,
I am convinced that the whole economy of nature, with every fact
on distribution, rarity, abundance, extinction, and variation, will be
dimly seen or quite misunderstood. We behold the face of nature
bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do
not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us
mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying
life; or we forget how largely these songsters or their eggs, or their
nestlings, are destroyed by birds of prey; we do not always bear in
mind, that though food may be now superabundant, it is not so at
all seasons of each recurring year.2
What is of importance here is that both Darwin and Haeckel recognized how essential it is to study organisms in the context of their abiotic (nonliving) and biotic (living) environments. Implicit
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Publication information: Book title: The Balance of Nature: Ecology's Enduring Myth. Contributors: John Kricher - Author. Publisher: Princeton University Press. Place of publication: Princeton, NJ. Publication year: 2009. Page number: 40.
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