Autecology: an approach in ecology; compare with community ecology (synecology) and (some suggest synonymous with) population ecology; others divide “ecology” into aut-, syn- and habitat branches (see comparison here)

  • variously used synonymously with
    • population ecology
    • species ecology (Pianka, 2008)
    • physiological ecology (Pianka, 2008)
  • compare also to organismal ecology in which the thermoregulation and physiology of a single organism is studied; like ecosystem ecology often relies on energetic units.
  • focuses on species-specific adaptations of individual animals, plants or other organisms, and of environmental over density-dependent influences on species distributions.[1]
  • seeks to explain the distribution and abundance of species by studying interactions of individual organisms with their environments
  • relates species-specific requirements and environmental tolerances of individuals to the geographic distribution of the species, with individuals tracking suitable conditions, having the capacity for migration at at least one stage in their life cycles.[2]
  • has a strong grounding in evolutionary theory, including the theory of punctuated equilibrium and the recognition concept of species.[3]
  • term “ecology” coined by Ernst Haeckel

From E. R. Pianka, 2008, in Encyclopedia of Ecology:

Autecology concerns the study of interactions between an individual, a population, or a species and its total environment. Environment refers to all the physical and biotic factors directly influencing a given organism or organismic unit as well as anything affected by it. Autecology has sometimes been defined as ‘species ecology’ and it has also been equated with physiological ecology. Many examples of how autecologies differ among various taxa are given. Indirect interactions, such as indirect mutualisms and trophic cascades, can greatly complicate autecologies; several examples are given. Such indirect interactions can be opposite in sign to direct interactions.

Compare also to ecosystem ecology
B.D. Fath, 2008, Encyclopedia of Ecology

  • One of the basic distinctions in ecology is between
    • autecology ecology of individual organisms and populations, mostly concerned with the biological organisms themselves
    • synecology ecology of relationships among the organisms and populations; mostly concerned with communication of material, energy, and information of the entire system of components
  • In order to study an ecosystem, one must have knowledge of the individual parts; thus, it is dependent on fieldwork and experiments grounded in autecology, but the focus is much more on how these parts interact, relate to, and influence one another including the physical environmental resources on which life depends.
  • Ecosystem ecology, therefore, is the implementation of synecology. In this manner, the dimensional units used in ecosystem studies are usually the amount of energy or matter moving through the system.
  • In population and community ecology the dimensional units are typically the number of individuals. This simple dimensional difference has served as an unfortunate divide between research conducted at the different ecological scales.
  • While ecosystem ecologists maintain that it is always possible to convert species numbers into biomass or nutrient mass, population and community ecologists often feel that too much unique biological detail is discarded by abstracting to energetic or material units. The advantage of this abstraction, of course, is that energy and mass are conserved quantities, whereas number of individuals is not. Therefore, using conserved units it is possible to construct balance equations and input–output models. In fact, dimensionally, ecosystem ecology has more in common with organismal ecology in which the thermoregulation and physiology of a single organism is studied, which also often relies on energetic units.

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