Ecology

What is ecophysiology

You may have ever heard the word ecophysiology or you may have heard of environmental physiology or physiological ecology .

If we look at the composition of the word, we can think that it has to be related to ecology and physiology, this gives us clues as to what it can mean. What we do know then is that its meaning is linked to the natural world and its mechanisms. Throughout this article we will explain the complete concept with the greatest clarity, so that by the end of your reading we all know what ecophysiology is and some examples .

What is ecophysiology – simple definition

Ecophysiology is the part of ecology that studies the physiological processes or mechanisms of living beings outside the laboratory, in their habitat and under the influence of natural environmental conditions or factors. These conditions vary continuously, naturally or from man-made causes, gradually or dramatically. That is, it studies the response of living beings to the environmental changes under which they are naturally subjected.

Ecophysiology is closely related to comparative physiology and evolutionary physiology.

  • Comparative Physiology: studies and analyzes the different functional characteristics or mechanisms of various types of organisms.
  • Evolutionary physiology: it is the study of the physiological or functional evolution that organisms have suffered over time, responding to certain factors.

This relationship is given because ecophysiology studies the physiological processes of living organisms, which are subjected to different environmental conditions. In this way, it is closely linked with the different functional characteristics of individuals and the physiological evolution of each one of them, thus being related to their adaptations for their survival. 

Within ecophysiology we can distinguish two types, depending on the organisms under study.

  • Plant ecophysiology focuses on the study of issues that relate the growth, reproduction, survival, abundance or geographic distribution of plants based on their interactions with the physical, chemical and biotic environment.
  • Animal ecophysiology is responsible for the same study, but focusing on animals. Although they differ in movement, animals can move to other places when conditions are unfavorable, such as bird migration .

To finish understanding what ecophysiology is, here are some examples of ecophysiology that are easy:

Plant ecophysiology

  • Temperature: In response to high temperatures and to avoid overheating, plants can minimize light absorption. There are several ways to do it, some of them are named are: the presence of hairs or difference in tone in the color of the leaf and orientation, in such a way that they avoid the absorption of solar radiation. In the case of low temperatures, as in the case of plants found in cold areas of New Zealand, the method they follow to resist cold winds is to form groups as a “quilt” to protect the most vulnerable parts of them.
  • Water: both the scarcity of water and the excess of it, which is called water stress , is detrimental to plants. In the first case, it would cause the death of the plant by dehydration and in the second, the flooding of the land would considerably reduce the concentration of oxygen available to the plant, which could even kill it. One of the techniques or adaptations of plants in cases of water shortage is to close their stomata to avoid dehydration, or for example in the case of cacti, used to very dry and difficult climates, the presence of thorns instead of leaves to minimize water loss.

Ecophysiology in animals

  • Temperature: in the case of animals, including of course humans, if the temperature is high, the body reacts to decrease it in the form of sweating or by panting, that is, by opening the mouth, as in the case of dogs. If, on the other hand, the temperature is low, the way to increase it is through small spasms like when we shiver.
  • Altitude: high altitudes lead to a reduction in oxygen present, so the human body and that of other animals reacts by increasing the concentration of hemoglobin, which, as we all know, carries oxygen in the blood.

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