History of Plant Ecology

Abstract

Plant ecology originated during the late nineteenth century in Germany and Scandinavia. Early plant ecologists pursued two broad areas of research: synecology, the study of plant communities and autecology, the study of the adaptation of species to their environments. Plant ecology developed rapidly in Britain and the United States during the first decade of the twentieth century, before animal ecology and other specialties emerged. The study of plant communities, particularly plant succession, became the central focus of ecological research during the first half of the twentieth century. After Second World War, the status of plant ecology as a distinctive area of research declined as new fields such as population ecology and ecosystem ecology gained prominence. However, plant ecologists continued to make substantial contributions to these newer areas of research.

Key Concepts:

  • Early plant ecologists studied plant communities and the adaptation of species to the physical and biological environments.

  • Laboratory physiology provided an important intellectual model for the early development of plant ecology.

  • Plant ecology was the first ecological specialty to emerge, and plant ecologists were largely responsible for establishing the discipline of ecology.

  • The process of plant succession was an important focus of research for American ecologists during the first half of the twentieth century.

  • Population genetics and evolutionary theory of the Modern Synthesis strongly influenced the development of population ecology after Second World War.

  • Population biology combined methods and ideas from population ecology, population genetics and evolutionary theory to study both plant and animal populations.

  • Ecosystem ecology emphasised the important energy‐capturing role of plants as the photosynthetic producers in terrestrial ecosystems.

  • Long‐term research carried out by large teams of scientists became a major feature of ecosystem ecology.

Keywords: plant communities; population biology; population ecology; vegetation; plant geography; ecology; ecosystems; succession; adaptation; natural selection

References

Bocking S (1997) Ecologists and Environmental Politics: A History of Contemporary Ecology. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Bowers JE (1988) A Sense of Place: The Life and Work of Forest Shreve. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Bradshaw AD (1983) The reconstruction of ecosystems. Journal of Applied Ecology 20: 1–17.

Cittadino E (1980) Ecology and the professionalization of botany in America. Studies in History of Biology 4: 171–198.

Cittadino E (1990) Nature as the Laboratory: Darwinian Plant Ecology in the German Empire 1800–1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Coleman W (1986) Evolution into ecology? The strategy of Warming's ecological plant geography. Journal of the History of Biology 19: 181–196.

Clausen J (1951) Stages in the Evolution of Plant Species. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Cowles HC (1901) The physiographic ecology of Chicago and vicinity: a study of the origin, development and classification of plant societies. Botanical Gazette 31: 73.

Craig PP (2005) Centennial History of Carnegie Institution of Washington. Vol. 4, The Department of Plant Biology. Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington Press.

Davis MA and Slobodkin LB (2004) The science and values of restoration ecology. Restoration Ecology 12: 1–3.

Fischedick KS (2000) From survey to ecology: the role of the British Vegetation Committee, 1904–1913. Journal of the History of Biology 33: 291–314.

Geier M (2007) Necessary Work: Discovering Old Forests, New Outlooks, and Community on the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, 1948–2000. Portland: US Forest Service.

Golley FB (1993) A History of the Ecosystem Concept in Ecology: More than the Sum of the Parts. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hagen JB (1984) Experimentalists and naturalists in twentieth‐century botany: experimental taxonomy, 1920–1950. Journal of the History of Biology 17: 249–270.

Hagen JB (1986) Ecologists and taxonomists: divergent traditions in twentieth‐century plant geography. Journal of the History of Biology 19: 197–214.

Hagen JB (1992) An Entangled Bank: The Origins of Ecosystem Ecology. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Harper JL (1967) A Darwinian approach to plant ecology. Journal of Ecology 55: 247–270.

Harper JL (1977) Population Biology of Plants. London: Academic Press.

Hobbie JE, Carpenter SR, Grim NB, Gosz JR and Seastedt TR (2003) The US long term ecological research program. BioScience 53: 21–32.

Jordan WR, Gilpin ME and Aber JD (1987) Restoration Ecology: A Synthetic Approach to Ecological Research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kingsland SE (1985) Modeling Nature: Episodes in the History of Population Ecology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kingsland SE (2005) The Evolution of American Ecology, 1890–2000. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kohler RE (2002) Landscapes and Labscapes: Exploring the Lab‐Field Border in Biology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Luoma JR (1999) The Hidden Forest: The Biography of an Ecosystem. New York: Henry Holt.

McIntosh RP (1985) The Background of Ecology: Concept and Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mitman G (1992) The State of Nature: Ecology, Community, and American Social Thought, 1900–1950. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Nicolson M (1990) Henry A. Gleason and the individualistic hypothesis: the structure of a botanist's career. Botanical Review 56: 97–161.

Nicolson M (1996) Humboldtian plant geography after Humboldt: the link to ecology. British Journal for the History of Science 29: 289–310.

Nicolson M and McIntosh RP (2002) H.A. Gleason and the individualistic hypothesis revisited. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 83: 133–142.

Solbrig OT, Jain S, Johnson GB and Raven PH (1979) Topics in Plant Population Biology. New York: Columbia University Press.

Tansley AG (1947) The early history of modern plant ecology in Britain. Journal of Ecology 35: 130–137.

Tobey RC (1981) Saving the Prairies: The Life‐Cycle of the Founding School of American Plant Ecology, 1895–1955. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Whittaker RH (1975) Ordination and Classification of Communities. The Hague: Junk.

Worster D (1994) Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Further Reading

Gurevitch J, Scheiner SM and Fox GA (2006) The Ecology of Plants, 2nd edn. Sunderland: Sinauer.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Hagen, Joel B(Nov 2010) History of Plant Ecology. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003288.pub2]