SYMP 1-3
Physiological ecology: Past, present, and future

Monday, August 5, 2013: 2:10 PM
M100EF, Minneapolis Convention Center
C. Richard Tracy, Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, NV

Ecology originated from scholarship in the philosophy of science and in the study of natural history. These areas gave birth to zoology and botany, and to natural questions about why plants and animals existed where they do. Biology emerged as a uniting influence between the zoology and botany, and helped us understand analogous processes in plants and animals. The field of ecology appeared in the latter half of the 19th Century as a natural extension of natural history, botany, zoology, and biology. Plant ecology became more fully developed earlier than zoological ecology, and the deeper questions about why plants and animals are found where they are, became the predecessors of physiological ecology. The autecology of animals importantly includes behavior as well as physiology, but plants depend more deeply on adaptations in physiology and anatomy to facilitate existence in certain environments, so plant physiological ecology naturally emerged from within plant ecology. Environmental physiology of animals arose differently from physiologists and species specialists in the early part of the twentieth century with the seminal papers by Irving and Scholander, who studied homeostasis in endothermic vertebrates, and Cowles and Bogert, who revealed how ectothermic vertebrates frequently regulate physiological systems with comparable precision to that in endotherms. These scholars ushered in the beginnings of the field of animal physiological ecology, and decades of exploration about the nature and extent of environmental limits and of homeostatic mechanisms in organisms. The exploratory era of physiological ecology continues to be important today, but considerable change has punctuated both plant and animal physiological ecology. Responding to a book by Feder and others, animal physiological ecology gravitated to questions about the evolution of physiological systems leading to more reductionistic exploration into the molecular basis of physiological phenomena, to the selective forces leading to physiological adaptation, and to the evolutionary consequences of evolving in particular physical environments; for example, macroecological patterns in physiological processes that could contribute to physiological, morphological and ecological pattern at levels larger than the landscape scale. Additionally, animal physiological ecology, following the lead from plant physiological ecology, has evolved to become very important to our understanding of limitations to sensitive species, and to threats to the persistence of populations of sensitive species.


Today and tomorrow, physiological ecology becomes larger and more important than at anytime in the past, but not as a stand-alone discipline as it was in the latter half of the 20th Century.