What is Human Ecology?

Sheryl Butterfield
Sheryl Butterfield

Human ecology is the study of the relationship between humans and nature. People who work in this field believe that people are integrated into ecosystems, and they study how humans are intimately connected to their environment and how they impact that environment.

Human ecology examines the relationshio between nature and people.
Human ecology examines the relationshio between nature and people.

Studies of ecosystems typically consider relationships between species and nature. People, however, are sometimes purposefully left out of the scope, since some studies want to ensure a pure ecosystem study. Human ecology, on the other hand, promotes the idea that humans are not to be excluded as an unnatural part of a natural ecosystem. They recognize that humans have the largest influence on ecosystem changes happening today.

Humans are part of an ecosystem that even exists within their own bodies.
Humans are part of an ecosystem that even exists within their own bodies.

Humans are distinctive from all other species. This type of ecology teaches that humans are complex beings who express conscious goals via the natural world. A person's behavior is influenced by knowledge plus values, beliefs, and conscious goals. Developing cultures and emerging societies construct their values and goals relative to nature. Conflicts, as well as working together, contribute to an elaborate set of interactions among individuals and groups.

Human ecology also explores how the environment influences humans. The environment often forces human beings to invent, then adapt to, coping and survival strategies. This vein of ecological study asks how efforts to preserve the environment, for example, can include human values and societies' value differences. It is a way of seeing the world synergistically.

Scientists in the field accept human longings and anxieties, and they want to understand where these emotions originate. Additional exploration often leads them to ask how values and emotions affect the global environment. Social and political understanding could be linked to psychology, ethics, and theology.

Findings from other fields are often integrated into human ecology studies. Taking information from areas such as biology, anthropology, politics, and psychology contributes to the methodology's interdisciplinary reputation. It is also a participatory discipline, with the humans doing the research acting as part of the ecosystem they are evaluating. This can lead to greater insight into human values and understanding of people with differing values.

By focusing on the human aspects of environmental management, a human ecology research group observes interaction between people in an ecosystem. Particular areas of study may focus on sustainability of crops, harvesting methods, or biodiversity in forests of politically charged nations. By working with local communities in all parts of the world, the field aims for plans that benefit humans and non-humans alike.

Some ecosystem studies purposefully leave out humans.
Some ecosystem studies purposefully leave out humans.
Sheryl Butterfield
Sheryl Butterfield

Sheryl is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in articles about environmental issues, renewable energy, and parenting teenagers.

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Discussion Comments


Ecology is the study of relationships that living organisms have and can also be a science that adds to our understanding of evolution.


I agree that humans should not be studied separately from the environment.

Ecology is said to be the science of relations between the environment and living things. But this also implies that the environment is not living. This is not true. Our environment is composed of living things as well.

That's why I think they should be grouped together and studied together.


Human ecology is also important for health and disease. There are many infectious diseases that spread because of the way we interact with nature and our habits.

At the same time, we are also another step in the cycle of transmission, similar to the species charts we used to study in school.

Just think about the new infectious diseases that have appeared in the last decade. You can always find some action or reaction by humans that triggered the mutation of a virus or caused it to spread.


I have been feeling more connected to nature ever since I bought a house in the country. Being around trees and plants, growing crops and caring for animals gives me so much peace. I really feel that I belong in this environment and it seems that my life is more organized now and my mood more optimistic.

I never realized before that the relationship between humans and nature is so important for our existence. It also makes me more sensitive about environmental issues and I have been taking part in green projects in the community and environmentally safe living.

If we lose this connection with nature, I think we will live in a way that is damaging to it, as many of us are now and as I used to before.


Another branch of human ecology has to with the study of micro-organisms that live on and in the human body. Some scientists suspect that as much as 70% of a human beings body weight is made up of these micro-organisms. It has even been postulated that the human being may be nothing more than a very evolved ecosystem, existing primarily to provide a hearty habitat for these tiny creatures.

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