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2.1: You and the Environment

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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What is your environment and how is it related to ecology?

What is your environment? Does it include only natural things? Does it include things that people make? Are there living things like houseplants and spiders in your environment? Does it include only things that wiggle, bite, and grow? Or does it include other things, too-things that don't wiggle, bite, and grow-things such as rocks, sunshine, and water? So what is your environment, anyway? This section, as well as the entire unit that follows, is going to help you learn about the environment all around you.

“The beauty of nature includes all that is called beautiful, as its flowers; and all that is not called beautiful, as its stalk and roots.”

John Burroughs, quoted in The Earth Speaks.

Your environment (in-VI-ren-ment) includes everything outside your body that affects you or that you affect. It may include your friend, your neighbor, the walls of your home, the water in the school's water fountains, birds and insects you see on your way to school, the concrete in the roads, and the trees and plants in your neighborhood. Your environment includes all of these things and thousands of others.

Did You Know?

The word affect is a verb meaning “to bring about change.” The word effect is a noun that refers to the change itself. Therefore, when you affect something you cause an effect!

Scientists usually divide things in the environment into two groups called biotic factors and abiotic factors. Biotic factors in the environment are those things that are alive or were recently alive. For example, biotic factors include such things as you, your favorite tree, the neighbor's dog, the grass in the cracks of the sidewalk, fallen leaves, and the fly that just buzzed by. Abiotic factors, on the other hand, are things that have never been alive. Abiotic factors include such things as rain, sunshine, rocks, soil, water that runs in a stream, the glass you use for a refreshing drink of water, and the air that rustles the leaves in the trees.

Name something that was once alive but has now been dead for thousands (or even millions) of years? Explain why you think it would be considered a biotic factor or an abiotic factor now.

How do you think we've learned so much about the environment? Scientists called ecologists (ee-KAHL-ah-jists) study the environment and try to figure out how it works. Ecologists investigate how biotic factors affect one another. For example, these scientists may observe how salmon swim upstream to reproduce and how grizzly bears wait at waterfalls for their salmon dinner. Ecologists also think about how abiotic factors affect biotic ones. For example, they may study how a drought kills plants that need a lot of water, but allows plants that don't need a lot of water to thrive. Ecologists also investigate what effect the pollution of abiotic factors such as water have on biotic factors such as people. In general, ecologists study where organisms (OR-ga-niz-ems) are found, why they are found there, how many there are, what factors bring this about, how they interact with their environment, and how their environment interacts with them.

What Do You Think?

Would you consider a career studying the environment? Why or why not? Find out about some of those careers and imagine yourself in ten years with one of those careers.

You are an ecologist. Write about a typical day in your life as you study plants, animals, and their interactions with their environment and each other.

Why should we study ecology?

Figure 1.1 What is important for a dog to have in its environment?

Activity 1-1: Map Your Environment!


You are an important part of your environment just as much as any other animal is. You affect biotic and abiotic factors just as they affect you. In this activity you draw a map to analyze how you are connected to various parts of your environment.


  • 1 Piece of butcher paper or other large piece of paper
  • Colored marking pens, pencils, or crayons
  • Activity Report


Step 1 Draw a self-portrait in the middle of the piece of large paper.

Step 2 Think about all the biotic and abiotic factors you can that are in your environment. List the factors on your Activity Report. Around your picture write the names of the six most important biotic factors in your environment and draw them. Then do the same for the six most important abiotic factors.

Step 3 Draw lines to show the connections between you and the different factors in your environment. Use one color to represent connections to biotic factors and a different color to represent connections to abiotic factors. Label each line with a word that describes how you interact with that factor. (Hint: Look at Figure 1.1. The illustration shows the factors that are important to a dog.)

Step 4 Use another color to draw lines between factors that are connected with each other.

Step 5 Consider these questions and write responses to them on your Activity Report.

  • Which of these factors is the most important to you?
  • Which factors, if any, could you live without?

Step 6 Compare your finished map with those of your classmates, and write responses to them on your Activity Report.

  • What factors in your environment do you have in common?
  • How are your environmental factors similar? How are they different?

What do you think?

Consider the factors you found to be important in your environment. How do you think these factors differ from those of a student who lives in a village in the Brazilian rain forest, in a Japanese city, and near the Sahara Desert?

Review Questions

  1. What is your environment?
  2. What is the difference between a biotic and an abiotic factor? Give three examples of each that are not mentioned in this book.
  3. What are ecologists and what do they do?

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Date Created:
Feb 23, 2012
Last Modified:
Aug 06, 2016
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