What is an Ecology Laboratory?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An ecology laboratory is a facility where people study ecology. Ecology laboratories can vary from field sites where long-term studies are conducted to fixed built facilities loaded with scientific equipment which can be used by ecologists to further their work. Ecology laboratories are often attached to university and college ecology programs, and they can also be associated with government agencies, private companies, and environmental conservation organizations.

Microscopic organisms, like these paramecia, are part of an area's ecology.
Microscopic organisms, like these paramecia, are part of an area's ecology.

Ecology, the study of the way in which organisms interact with each other and the natural environment, includes a number of subfields. Like other natural sciences, ecology blends work in the field which allows people to make observations and collect samples with work in the lab, which provides opportunities for study, experimentation, and analysis to explore and confirm findings and theories developed by ecologists. The ability to work in the lab is critical for many ecologists, as are the resources which may be available to an ecology laboratory, ranging from equipment for the field to DNA testing equipment.

Ecology laboratories facilitate the study of the ecology.
Ecology laboratories facilitate the study of the ecology.

Fixed labs usually include scientific equipment which is utilized in the study of ecology, including tools for biochemical analysis, microscopes, radiological equipment, and storage facilities for samples. In the ecology laboratory, ecologists can do everything from dissecting plants they find in the field to testing suspect soil for the presence of radiological contaminants. The ability to perform complex chemical analysis can also be useful for ecologists working in a range of fields, such as aquatic ecologists who want to learn about the content of a water sample.

Many fixed lab facilities also have spaces for experimentation. In a laboratory, an ecologist can create a totally controlled environment for the purpose of conducting an experiment. Ecologists can also use and manipulate potentially dangerous items in the security of a laboratory, exploring topics such as the impact of nuclear fallout on agriculture, genetically modified plants, or the result of a release of a non-native species in a vulnerable environment. The ability to experiment and test is important to researchers who want to be able to show that they have fully explored an issue in the ecology laboratory.

An ecology field lab may include anything from temporary facilities used by ecologists to store and handle samples near a research site to an area in natural environment which has been dedicated for use as an ecology lab by researchers. Working in a dedicated area which has been set aside as an ecology laboratory for study, ecologists can explore a natural landscape and control for various influences, such as the impact of other humans on the environment.

University ecology labs are used for both research and to teach students the proper lab procedures.
University ecology labs are used for both research and to teach students the proper lab procedures.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@irontoenail - Well, a lot of ecological work is just analyzing soil samples though, there's no getting around that. Sure, you need to realize that observing a living ecology is important, but the amount you can find out from mere observation is limited. At some point you need to determine which areas have what chemical makeup in the soil and the air and the water, which bacteria are present, how the digestion systems work on the animals involved and so forth.

And a lot of that needs controlled conditions and careful experimentation to make sure that nothing is taken for granted. The best medium is to have the lab close to the ground, so that you can easily observe research and experiment.


@Iluviaporos - I don't even know how you'd study a lot of ecological interactions in a laboratory and expect any kind of definitive answers. A natural resource ecology laboratory would have to take all kinds of things into account. They could only study quick reactions which haven't got the real world interference you'd get in the field.

For example, I know that scientists recently studied a lake near me and determined that it took around 50 years for anything put in the surrounding watershed to reach the water of the lake. This is terrible news because it means we will have to live through the waters reacting to all the things they put on their fields 50 years ago today.

But how would you really be able to determine that kind of thing in a lab? All you could really do was analyze soil samples and so forth. The real work would be done in the field.


I think it's really cool when you find an ecology laboratory attached to a museum and set up in such a way that you can see the work of the scientists as they go about their jobs.

This seems to be a more and more common attraction for a lot of different places, as I've seen it in zoos as well. People are just fascinated by the real work of those who bring them the information. They don't just want to read about those people on a placard, they want to be able to see the experiments in action.

I think it helps that they only have to watch for a few moments and then they can move on. In reality, ecological studies take a long time, as it can take a long time for anything to affect an ecology and most experiments are only exciting to those who are hoping for a particular answer.

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