Ecology is the science of relationships in the natural world. It is the study of how plants and animals interact with each other, with other organisms, and with their physical environment. Learn more about some of the foundational ecological concepts of this website.

excerpt from map showing patterns in the landscape near Rock Creek

Patterns in Nature

Ecologists see patterns in the landscape called natural communities. What's the value of naming and mapping the patterns?

squirrel with leaves

The Role of Animals

How do animals need plants, and vice versa?

Squirrel with leaves - Matt Jones
pink azalea

Secret Lives of Plants

How do the differences among plants make them great at living in community?

Pink azalea - Sam Sheline
a ravine in the forest

Physical Setting

The soils, bedrock, topography, and water at a site give clues to which natural communities might live there.

Rivulet after a spring rain - Sam Sheline
American lady butterfly on tickseed sunflower

Natural Processes

How do things that happen in nature (think floods, ice storms, falling trees, animals eating or pollinating plants, etc.) shape natural communities?

American lady butterfly on tickseed sunflower - Matt Jones
Park staff member fighting non-native invasive plants

Stewardship and Ecological Threats

What keeps a natural community healthy? What threatens its survival?

Park management - National Park Service