Ecology is distinguished from natural history, which deals primarily with the descriptive study of organisms. It is also distinct from traditional biology, which deals primarily with understanding single organisms and the general properties of life.
There are many practical applications of ecology in conservation biology, wetland management, natural resource management (agriculture, forestry , fisheries), city planning (urban ecology), community health, economics, basic & applied science and it provides a conceptual framework for understanding and researching human social interaction.
Like many of the natural sciences, a conceptual understanding of ecology is found in the broader details of study, including:
* life processes explaining adaptations
* distribution and abundance of organisms
* the movement of materials and energy through living communities
* the successional development of ecosystems, and
* the abundance and distribution of biodiversity in context of the environment
The niche is the set of biotic and abiotic conditions in which a species is able to persist and maintain stable population sizes.
Ecology and evolution can be studied at a wide range of levels, from large to small scale. Levels of ecological organization, as well as an example of a question ecologists would ask at each level, include (from the broadest to the most specific):
* Biosphere: "What role does concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide play in the growth of forests?"
* Region: "How has the geological history influenced the structure of regional diversity and spatial distributions of species?"
* Landscape: "How do vegetated corridors affect the rate of movement by mammals among isolated fragments?"
* Ecosystem: "How does fire affect nutrient availability in grassland ecosystems?"
* Community: "How do invasive aquatic species alter nutrient flow and gas exchange dynamics in different wetland communities?"
* Interactions: "What evolutionary benefit do zebras gain by allowing birds to remove parasites?"
* Population: "What effect does rainfall have on the biomass of zebra populations?"
* Individual organism: "How do zebras regulate internal water balance?"
* Gene: "How does genetic diversity relate to the different breeding behaviours of different species?"