Ecology Basics

Ecology is the science of relationships in the natural world. It is the study of how plants and animals interact with each other, with other organisms, and with their physical environment.
Learn more about some of the foundational ecological concepts of this website.
Explore these sections in Ecology Basics:

Snippet of a vegetation mapPatterns in Nature

Ecologists see patterns in the landscape called natural communities. What's the value of naming and mapping the patterns?

Grey squirrel carrying leaves - Matt JonesThe Role of Animals

How do animals need plants, and vice versa?

Pink Azalea - Sam ShelineSecret Lives of Plants

How do the differences among plants make them great at living in community?

Ravine with Basic Mesic Hardwood Forest - Sam ShelinePhysical Setting

The soils, bedrock, topography, and water at a site give clues to which natural communities might live there.

American Lady butterfly on yellow flowers (Bidens) - Matt JonesNatural Processes

How do things that happen in nature (think floods, ice storms, falling trees, animals eating or pollinating plants, etc.) shape natural communities?

NPS staff removing invasive bambooStewardship & Ecological Threats

What keeps a natural community healthy? What threatens its survival?


What do ecologists see when they look at a forest?

What happens when there are too many white-tailed deer?

They're pretty, but beastly. How do they overrun natural communities?

Photo Credits  Chestnut Oak / Mountain Laurel Forest (cropped) – Gary Fleming; White-tailed deer (cropped) – Sam Sheline; Lesser celandine (cropped) – CUE