Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What is Ecology?

"What is Ecology?"
-from The Piedmont Virginian Newspaper, 7 July, 1971

By L. Jonas

Have you asked yourself any questions like these:

Why were there lots of bobolinks singing around the place last year, but none this year?

Why is it that one day my roses will be free of aphids, and the next day there are dozens on them?

Why was it that I saw no deer at all on opening day, when the week before in the same places where I hunted, there were many of them?

If you've ever wondered about such things, and if you've even farther and and figured out some satisfactory answers once in a while, you're an ecologist, whether you can define the term or not.

What is an ecologist? What is ecology? Ecology is the name given to a science which studies living things "at home", that is, in the place where they normally occur.

For example, what effect does a gray squirrel have on oak forests, and on farmers? What effect does the farmer have on the oak tree , and on the squirrel?

A good hunter knows that deer will be in different places on a cold, windy day than on a warm, quiet day. He also knows that deer eat different foods at different times of year, as do grouse.

Grouse, for instance, eat a lot of buds in the winter, while during hunting season, they are looking for wild grapes, and other fruits. Furthermore, he knows grouse won't be far from water, since they do most of their traveling on the ground and like everything (food, water, and shelter, as well as a bed for the night) within easy walking distance. The hunter is, therefore, an ecologist. The good fisherman knows that trout lie facing the current, and usually in a relatively quit spot, so he walks upstream and casts his fly so it drifts behind rocks, logs, and other obstructions which slow the current down.

The good gardener knows that, at certain times of the year, aphids have wings and migrate, so that they can suddenly appear in sizable numbers. He also knows that if he spades up some sod, annual weeds will usually appear in great numbers (Seeds of pigweed and many other common weeds will lie dormant in the soil for 10 to 20 years until the conditions become favorable for germination.).

The nature-lover may wonder why bobolinks are so plentiful one spring, and are not around at all the next spring. Part of the answer lies in the weather. If a late spring keeps things so cold that birds can't find food in the northern part of their range at the normal time, when the weather does warm up, they migrate at a much faster speed than in other years.

And then there are fluctuations from year to year in the population of different animals, from disease or lack of food, or other unfavorable factors which limit the number of young raised.

For example, in the autumn of 1969, when I walked through the woods in the Bull Run Mountains, with our dog accompanying me, I could count almost every chipmunk there, because wherever the dog went there was a circle of protesting chipmunks.

In 1970, there were very few chipmunks; I seldom saw one crossing the road, and seldom did one scold when I walked through the woods. Now, this summer we are seeing young and old chipmunks quite frequently. What accounted for the great different in numbers?

One good explanation is that the acorns in 1969 were practically nonexistent, as was most other food, evidently this being due to the past few dry years, which have affected the vigor of all trees and shrubs, even the tough chestnut oaks and hickories.

The year 1970 wasn't very good for mast (The nuts of forest trees which accumulate on the ground.), either, but there was evidently enough to see the chipmunks through the winter.

However, 1970 was the poorest squirrel-hunting season I have ever seen or heard of. Two years of little or no mast has evidently affected the squirrel population. Since the grey squirrel is quite a migrator, if food is plentiful this year, they could move back in, if populations are high in other areas not many miles away.

How true is it that quail and hawks cannot co-exist? There are still many hunters who shoot every hawk they see, claiming that the redtail hawk never misses a quail which he tries for.

I'd like to see some proof of this. From what I've seen of quail, if you give him good cover and plenty of feed, he will be there, with a goodly number of descendants. Anyone who has hunted quail much in good quail country should know very well that it isn't easy to hunt out quail, unless you trail them in the snow and covey-shoot them.

By good quail country, I mean an area where there is plenty of protection, such as bushes and scattered trees, and especially plenty of nutritious feed during the tough season, especially winter.

The same goes for any game species, of course. Many studies have shown that it isn't predators which make the difference (except for man); it is the question of suitable habitat, ALL YEAR LONG.

An ecologist is a man who likes to face questions, and then find the answers.

Those amateur (or professional) ecologists I have known never wasted away after retiring from their jobs; they just had more time to spend finding out answers.

An ecologist never runs out of things to do!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Mama,
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    I Love You And I Like You!!!!!!!!