A BRIEF GLOSSARY OF ECOLOGICAL TERMS
Background: I wrote most of this long ago as a PhD student in wildlife science. I was fed up with how poorly defined are many concepts and terms in ecology, or how different authors or researchers bend the terms to meet their immediate preconceptions or needs. I wrote this as a wry, sardonic, sarcastic, spoof. My inspiration? The wonderful book The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Beirce.
This might appeal to -- or perhaps appall -- a few purist ecologists.
Allele. The Mendelian quark, assigned whatever properties that grace our mathematics.
Altruism. The granting by the major professor of second authorship to the graduate student upon publication of the Master's thesis.
Adaptation. Any of behavioral, anatomical, physiological, ecological, phenotypic, or genetic characteristic of an organism deemed to have imparted fitness to its historic, current, or future environment. Any square peg that fits the round hole.
Biodiversity. Whatever organisms of whatever taxonomic levels happen to inhabit whatever geographic area over whatever time period before or after whatever disturbance events occur or have not occurred.
Climax. The final stage of communities developing under conditions of no perturbations that might otherwise cause deviation from the state of climax.
Competition. The hypothetical interference of similar or different animals using the same or different resources at similar or different times. The perennial explanans of the inexplicable in ecology. Historical justification for the contemporary dilemma.
Conservation ecology. See Ecology.
Deep ecology. Cerebral musings on the striking realization that humans are corporal beings that inhabit Planet Earth.
Disturbance ecology. See Ecology.
Ecology. The study of the interactions through time and space of everything with everything else. A science based on grand inference, illimitable empirical anecdotes, abstruse mathematics, and at the most one term that is agreed upon. Explanation that does not refute observation, and especially vice versa, such as the cock induces the sun to rise.
Ecotone. The resonance frequency generated by the mutual striking of two community chords.
Endangered species. The last day of summer vacation. The final dollar in the wallet. The last French fry in the basket. Musical chairs just before the music stops.
Fecundity. The contribution made to a population by a female if she is caught. (See Gross reproduction.)
Feral. The dog that does not come when whistled at.
Founder population. Income taxa.
Genetic drift. Alleles and their progeny afloat in a sea of random swells, that either all drown or all make it ashore to rule the island. Emptying the chromosomal feedbag.
Gross reproduction. [Censored]
Inbreeding. See Gross reproduction.
Landscape ecology. See Ecology.
Lek. A communal courtship area. Cruising the avian strip.
Microhabitat. The mouse in the horse's hoof print.
Mimicry. An ecologist who poses as a geneticist, biologist, zoologist, palynologist, botanist, mathematician, physiologist, naturalist, or duck hunter, or vice versa.
Mutation. Deviation from normal variation of a species that originally arose via mutation.
Natural selection. Choosing the dish detergent that makes more, and longer- lasting, suds over that that does not.
Net reproduction. What birds do when entangled in a mist net.
Niche. The place where animals hide from ecologists. Whatever a plant or animal is, does, was, or should be.
Ordination. The complex mathematical analysis of detailed ecological data by which plant or animal communities are proven to exhibit characteristics already well known by fishermen, hunters, birders, and gardeners.
Perturbation. Tomorrow’s weather. The surprise of a change in a system in constant change.
Pheromones. Cologne of the conspecifics.
Polygyny. The wearing of multiple paternity suits.
Predator. A plant or animal that ingests something; even autophagy is a form of predation.
Protandry. An ontogenic demotion in the copulatory hierarchy from a position on top to one on the bottom.
Publication. Life after data. A professor of a well-known university, upon commiserating with a colleague, was heard to remark, "... poor old Farnsworth. He published and published, but perished nonetheless."
Saprophage. The yellow-bellied sapsucker.
Species-area curve. The ingenious observation that many species inhabit huge areas, only a few species inhabit a tiny area, and no species inhabit no area.
Subspecies. The washer left over after the car is reassembled.
Succession. The noise made by trees falling in the forest when no one is there to listen.
Threatened species. The condition in which a species – also defined [sic] as a subspecies, population, distinct population segment, or significant portion of the range of a species, subspecies, population, or distinct population segment – will be in peril of extinction if it is not already in peril of extinction (cf. Endangered species).
Xerophyte. The settling of an argument by two zeros.
© Bruce G. Marcot
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