Background of Ecology Virtual Lab
- Plants and animals living in their physical environment make up an ecosystem. The study of such ecosystems is referred as ecology. Water is one of the important substances necessary for life, which determines the structure and functions of the ecosystem. The pH of the water plays an important role in the waste water treatment process. Extreme pH levels, presence of particulate matters, accumulation of toxic chemicals and increasing alkalinity levels are common problems in waste water. This becomes a serious environmental concern in recent years and hence municipal and industrial waste water treatments are critical before it enters to lakes, rivers, canals and other water bodies. The pH analyses are important for neutralization, precipitation, coagulation and other biological treatment process. pH analyses are probably the most recommended method for waste water treatment (Refer Determination of pH of Waste Water Sample).
- Moreover, all the aquatic animals rely on the oxygen present in the water (dissolved oxygen) to live. Aquatic microorganisms use the organic matter discharged into the water as its food source. Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) is a widely used technique to express the concentration of organic matter in waste water samples and hence the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water is an indicator of the water quality (Refer Biological Oxygen Demand).
- With the increase of pollution and the subsequent discharge of large amount of various chemicals, oxidisable organic substances etc, reach the aquatic system through various cycles in the ecosystem. BOD values alone do not give a clear picture of organic matter content of the water sample. The presence of various toxicants in the sample may severely affect the validity of BOD test. Hence Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) is a water quality measure used not only to measure the amount of biologically active substances such as bacteria but also biologically inactive organic matter in water. It is more easy and rapid method to analyze the water sample (Refer COD of Water).
- In ecosystem, it is important to understand the various processes that connect the living components (biotic factors) and non living components (abiotic factors). Energy transformation processes and biogeochemical cycling are the critical factors that are essential in the field of ecosystem ecology. Basic elements in the ecosystem such as carbon, phosphorous, nitrogen etc enter the living organisms in a variety of ways. Plants, which are the primary producers, of the ecosystem, obtain energy from sunlight, and obtain the elements from the atmosphere, soil or water. Other living organisms obtain the necessary elements directly from the physical environment, or by consuming other organisms in the ecosystem. These compounds are biochemically transformed within the bodies of organisms, and by the process of excretion or decomposition they may be converted into organic state. Microorganisms, mainly bacteria, then come into action and complete the further process through decomposition or mineralization. Therefore, the elements are continuously cycled between the biotic and abiotic components within the ecosystem (Refer Nitrogen Cycle).
- Similarly, the biotic component (i.e; the living organisms) interact among themselves with the abiotic components (i.e; non-living environment) to maintain the balance of the ecosystem. The scientific study of the distribution and abundance of the living organism in the ecosystem, how its abundance is affected by interactions among the organisms and their environment is a major factor which determines the stability of ecosystem. In addition to the abiotic factors on the environment, the populations can be very much affected by the interactions between the organisms in the ecosystem. Population ecology is the study of populations (especially population abundance) and how they change over time. The “species interactions” explains most of the domain of ecology (Refer A Brief Introduction to Species Interactions in Ecology) and is an important fact in the ecological sciences. Case studies and mathematical models based on predation, competition etc seen in the ecosystem is the main focus this simulation oriented labs.
- Generally, a population is referred as a collection of interbreeding individuals of the same species that live together in a region. Exponential population growth occurs when a single species is not limited by other species (no predation, parasitism, competition), resources are not limited and environmental conditions are constant. In such conditions, population grows exponentially at constant percentage per time. Such a condition that permits exponential growth of a population is called an ecological vacuum. Ecological vacuum does not often occur in nature for a long period. In nature exponential population growth occurs commonly during a recovery of a population after a large scale disturbance such as fire, epidemic etc. (Refer Bacterial Population Growth)
- Moreover, Invasion ecology has grown to become an important multi-disciplinary subﬁeld of ecology with growing links to many other disciplines. This covers all the aspects relating to the introduction of organisms to an ecosystem, their ability to establish in the ecosystem, invading the target region, and the interactions with the resident organisms in the new ecosystem location (Refer Population Invasion - A Threat to Ecosystem).
- Similarly, one of the main classical concerns of ecology is foraging behavior. Foraging mode is a very important aspect of life history, and it is generally associated with characteristics such as reproductive effort, risk of predation, energy budget and locomotor mode. Studies on foraging mode can be useful because of these life-history associations (Refer Study of Foraging of Organisms in the Ecosystem). The equilibrium of the ecosystem should be maintained as it is important for the welfare of all the living beings including humans.
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