Physiological Ecology

B K McNab, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA Published by Elsevier B.V.

Photosynthesis Nutrients and Diets The Future Further Reading

Thermal Biology Energetics

Geographical Patterns

Limits to Geographical Distributions

Gas Exchange

Physiological ecology is a hybrid field that uses of the tools of physiology to examine aspects of the ecology and evolution of organisms. Although elements of this approach can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century, concerted efforts started especially after 1950 by such people as Per Scholander, Laurence Irving, W. D. Billings, H. A. Mooney, N. I. Kalabuchov, and Knut and Bodil Schmidt-Nielsen. Its principal preoccupation is to examine how organisms adjust (i.e., adapt) their characteristics to facilitate their survival and reproduction. Such work has implications for the thermal and osmotic limits to geographic distribution, the ability to tolerate xeric or mesic environments, the adjustments required to tolerate low barometric pressures at high altitudes and high pressures in deep-sea environments, the means by which consumers can handle plant secondary compounds in food, and how photosynthesis is modified to meet environmental conditions.

Unlike some other areas of ecology, physiological ecology, a comparatively new branch of ecology, does not have a well-developed, unified theoretical basis, except that the responses of organisms are expected to conform to the principles of physics and chemistry. Some species, however, are able to avoid these limits through behavioral evasions. Thus, burrowing habits reduce the necessity to respond directly to extreme climates, as is required of species exposed to the macroenvironment. Equally, the use of daily torpor or hibernation permits some species to avoid the harshest conditions in cold-temperate or desert environments. In a similar manner, some desert plants evade water shortages with deep tap roots that penetrate groundwater or by becoming dormant during dry periods.

The best way to illustrate the contribution of physiological ecology to the understanding of ecological relationships is to give several diverse examples of its analytical power.

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