Science of Ecology
Darwin was clearly ahead of his time. Although he was writing about the role of biodiversity and its function in ecosystems in 1859, the term "ecology" wasn't coined until 1866. German biologist Ernst Haeckel used the word to describe the study of plants and animals in their natural environment.
Today, the Institute of Ecosystem Studies defines ecology as the scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy and matter.
The role and importance of biodiversity in ecosystem functioning has become one of the central issues in ecology.
"We don't know how much we can deplete biodiversity in an ecosystem before the ecosystem collapses, but we are continuing to reduce species numbers at incredible ratesabout the same as those when the dinosaurs went extinct," said Hooper. "We might survive or we might notlike the dinosaurs. It would therefore be sensible to find out as much as we can about the interactions between diversity and ecosystem function."
In their report in Science, the authors noted: "We tend to view this research [on biodiversity and ecosystem function], which is currently one of the most active areas in ecology, as relatively new.
"But," they added, "as with many things in biology, Darwin got there first."
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