What is Ecology?

One of the most difficult questions in the area of ecology is what actually does 'ecology' mean, anyway? Many people see ecologists as people who care about greenhouse warming and fossil fuels, but in fact there is far more to the subject than that. Ecology is the study of how groups of organisms interact, be they plant, animal, or tiny bacteria.

As you can imagine, this is an enormous subject area -- you could spend your whole life studying how a mere two animals, say bees and wasps, interact with one another, without getting into the whole area of bees, flowers and pollination.

So, where do we start when looking at an entire world? One possibility is to scream and run away, but given that that is not an option, the first step might be to take a simple look at the needs of each individual species. Does the foxglove flower need light to grow? What do rocklice eat, exactly? Once we know how everything lives, we can begin to see how they all manage to live in the same place at once. Or not, as the case may be.

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

The natural world may look lovely and peaceful to us, but underneath the beautiful exterior, things are pretty rough for most of the plants and animals we see about us. We all know that animals eat plants or each other to stay alive, but even plants compete against one another, trying to steal each other's space and food. Even a simple field of grass is a battleground. What a cheering thought! A simple way of showing this constant battle is a food chain- a diagram of which stomachs everything ends up in. Here is an example:

However, grass isn't always eaten by cows -- it can be eaten by many other species. There are lots of possible food chains we could draw. Food chains don't really describe what happens to grass in a field on their own. Therefore, we can link all the possible food chains for grass together in a web, and begin to get an idea of grass's part in the overall scheme of things:

So, mosquitoes are ultimately made from grass! In this food web, plants are green, herbivores are yellow, and carnivores are red. We'll stick with this scheme for all four parts of the world. Any detritus eaters, or detritivores, in future diagrams will be purple.

Four worlds in One

The shee spaceship has four different ecosystems on board- the norn terrarium, the grendel jungle, the ettin desert, and the aquarium. Each has a very individual food web, with entirely different species in each part. Therefore, we'll look at them all separately on different pages. Please note that although it is possible to mix n' match your various animals between ecosystems (rocklice and hoppities do very well in the desert, for instance), we'll be talking only about a newly created world, in which nothing has been moved about, or has gone extinct.

Choose a terrarium from the list above or select the printable reference to view all the information on one page. The reference version contains some additional information.