Environmentalists and other conservationists have used ecology and other sciences (e.g., climatology) to support their advocacy positions. Environmentalist views are often controversialfor political or economic reasons. As a result, some scientific work in ecology directly influences policy and political debate; these in turn often direct ecological research.
The history ofecology, however, should not be conflated with that of environmental thought. Ecology as a modern science traces only from Darwin’s publication of Origin of Species and Haeckel’s subsequent naming of thescience needed to study Darwin’s theory. Awareness of humankind’s effect on its environment has been traced to Gilbert White in 18th-century Selborne, England. Awareness of nature and its interactionscan be traced back even farther in time. Ecology before Darwin, however, is analogous to medicine prior to Pasteur’s discovery of the infectious nature of disease. The history is there, but it is notparticularly relevant.
Neither Darwin nor Haeckel, it is true, did self-avowed ecological studies. The same can be said for researchers in a number of fields who contributed to ecological thoughtwell into the 1940s without avowedly being ecologists. Raymond Pearl’s population studies are a case in point. Ecology in subject matter and techniques grew out of studies by botanists and plantgeographers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that paradoxically lacked Darwinian evolutionary perspectives. Until Mendel’s studies with peas were rediscovered and melded into the Modern Synthesis ,Darwinism suffered in credibility. Many early plant ecologists had a Lamarkian view of inheritance, as did Darwin, at times. Ecological studies of animals and plants, preferably live and in the field,continued apace however.
A new name for a old problem
While Darwin focused exclusively on competition as a selective force, Eugen Warming devised a new discipline that took abiotic...