The 10 Best Ecology Textbooks

video play icon 10 Best Ecology Textbooks

This wiki has been updated 29 times since it was first published in May of 2016. Whether you are planning on a career as an environmental researcher or are taking a college course on the subject, check out our selection of ecology textbooks, any of which can supplement your scientific inquiries. We've included introductory volumes for laypersons interested in the interactions between living organisms and the environment, as well as authoritative editions for advanced learners. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Ecology 5th Edition

2. The Ecology Book

3. Ecology: From Individuals to Ecosystems

Editor's Notes

November 30, 2020:

Ecology continues to be a critical field as we face mounting environmental issues, so we looked to broaden our list a bit to include fresh approaches to appeal to students of all stripes as well as laypeople interested in the problems humanity faces.

First, we finally removed McDougal Littell Ecology, as its last update was in 2003, and at this point, that gap is just too large. For kids today, we felt The Ecology Book is much more compelling thanks to its punchy, graphic nature and updated content. It talks about recent developments like the Paris Agreement and the environmental movement, the latter of which is particularly relevant to youngsters now.

And while we love the concepts behind Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications, this was another text that we felt was just too out of date to keep around. Instead, we filled the vacancy with Ecology 5th Edition, a bestselling tome packed with recent data and examples meant to motivate and inform undergrads. It also looks at global ecology and large-scale applications as the effects countries have on each other become increasingly impossible to ignore.

Finally, you'll notice Environmental DNA joining the ranks today for those interested in biodiversity research. This relatively new field is equally amenable to those interested in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and is expected to help advance applications for a range of biological, geological, and environmental sciences. Though technical, this volume can be helpful for a host of ecology and biology students, especially those looking to inform policy or go into conservation.

December 16, 2019:

Thanks to a rapidly changing environment and newly formed challenges that require immediate consideration, the study of ecology has never been more important. With that urgency in mind, we wanted to ensure we included a handful of texts that address climate change, use data from recent studies, and focus on applied topics for the issues ecologists will be facing in the next few decades. That is why you'll find the newly added Ecology: From Individuals to Ecosystems in place of Ecology (Fourth Edition), which we still believe is a valuable text, but less compelling and a bit broader.

And while we love A Pocket Guide for its concise, short explanations and appeal to the layperson, we feel that it is overly general. Its essays have a negative bent that while likely written that way to impress upon readers the gravity of certain situations, come off as unpleasantly preachy. We think that students looking to get an introductory grip on the subject would appreciate The Princeton Guide to Ecology, a relatively unbiased, authoritative volume, instead.

Elements of Ecology and Ecology: Evolution, Application, Integration are excellent for students wanting to hone their research, quantitative and analytical skills. The former, however, is intended for advanced students and excessively detailed to the point of being overwhelming at times, so it's best read in digestible sections.

With youth activism on the rise, more and more youngsters are looking for information on the workings of the environment. McDougal Littell Science Ecology makes an ideal volume for middle schoolers interested in learning about such things. It's easy to read, formatted well, and full of informative illustrations. It hasn't been updated since 2003, however, so you'll need to supplement it with up-to-date research so as not to confuse. Picking up a zoology textbook can also help to broaden the reader's understanding and help them prepare for university courses.

Special Honors

The Ecological Society of America Not just helpful for ecologists, but biologists, educators, and resource managers, too, the Ecological Society of America offers career development, news, certifications, research, educational media, and networking to scientists across the country. Over 9,000 members conduct research, teach, and use ecological science to address environmental issues and inform policymakers. Members get special access to meetings, journals, discounts, engagement opportunities, and advocacy materials.

Save the Earth Climate Strike With both paid and free versions, Save the Earth is an educational strategy game about ecology appropriate for kids and adults. It outlines various actual ecological problems, their causes, and initiatives people across the globe are using to tackle them. The player takes on the role of saving the planet, using research and problem solving to get results and avoid disastrous consequences.

4. Ecology: Concepts and Applications

5. Ecology: The Economy of Nature

6. Freshwater Ecology

7. Ecology: Evolution, Application, Integration

8. Environmental DNA

9. Elements of Ecology

10. Ecology: Pearson New International Edition

What Do Ecology Textbooks Cover?

Ecologists are generally interested in topics of diversity, populations, distribution and biomass of an organism.

From the most basic point of view, ecology is the study of interactions of organisms within their environment. This can be everything from the behavior of viruses in certain hosts to how other humans affect the earth.

Ecologists are generally interested in topics of diversity, populations, distribution and biomass of an organism. Books will help improve the reader's capacity to classify various organisms based on these parameters.

An ecology textbook will also aim to improve the reader's understanding of the life processes of organisms, as well as their interactions and adaptations to their environment. Many textbooks will place an emphasis on the importance of biodiversity in an environment. A lack of biodiversity creates imbalances within the environment.

For instance, when wolves are removed from a forest, the number of deer multiply. This creates a lack of vegetation, which causes soil erosion around riverbanks, leading rivers to dry up. When rivers dry up, the habitat becomes inhospitable for many other creatures, who leave to find a better environment. Removing one aspect of an otherwise diverse environment can lead to collapse of the environment itself.

Everyday concepts like the food chain are also created by ecological study. Ecologists spend time in an environment, mapping out the predators and prey at various levels of the food chain, or food web as it is more accurately called. These webs are updated as new information comes out, and are mapped out in many books.

The study of ecology goes much further than basic concepts. Luckily, ecology textbooks provide in-depth information on a variety of important ecological topics.

Which Ecology Textbook Is Best?

The best ecology textbook will be based entirely on the needs of the reader. While textbooks usually find their way to schools and universities, many others can benefit from them as well.

The modern era moves fast, and new discoveries are being made regularly.

An ecology textbook's home is generally the biology department of the local college or high school. Many of the concepts in an ecology course will be studied very briefly in prerequisite biology courses. This provides little more than the most basic understanding of the concepts. Ecology has a long history and shows a lot of promise in helping students understand the interactions which occur between the organism and its environment.

Books that provide insight into the history of ecology may be important for some readers. The ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle and Hippocrates; the latter of whom turned his insights into natural health care practices, laid what could be considered the foundation for modern ecology. While these early thinkers misunderstood certain concepts that are now common sense, their observations most certainly paved the way for theories on ecology nearly two thousand years later.

Another aspect to consider in the hunt for ecology textbooks is relevance. The newest textbooks have the most relevant information, and will remain relevant for much longer than books created years ago. The modern era moves fast, and new discoveries are being made regularly. It is important to keep study information up to date.

Personal knowledge will also be a factor in choosing a book. If a textbook covers deeper concepts like biogeochemistry, it is important to understand the basic concepts of ecology in depth before covering this. Look for a textbook that matches your level of understanding.

Organism And Environment; Are They The Same?

The fundamental understanding of ecology is that organisms and environments are two completely separate things. Beginning in 1998 with a theory from Timo Järvilehto, the idea of the organism-environment system started to gain ground. At the very basic level, this theory states that in all functional senses, the organism and its environment are inseparable. For practical purposes, scientists pick apart these systems in order to classify various organisms or environments.

Put a human in the vacuum of space and it cannot breathe, speak, or circulate blood as it needs to.

An environment has its defining properties only if an organism is within it. Likewise, removing an organism from its environment would change the organism entirely, implying that the organism is a part of its environment in the way that the stomach is a part of the body. Outside of the body, the stomach would starve from being cut off from the food and blood supply. Its cells would deteriorate and die, and it would no longer exist as a functioning stomach. Therefore, the stomach depends on the body to exist in its proper state.

The classic example of this is humankind and its environment. From ancient times, thinkers and scholars have set the natural world as the direct opposite of humans. The basic characteristics of human beings which set them apart have always been seen as their mental activity level, self-awareness, and inner life. Nature, on the other hand, is classically depicted as crude, uncaring, and something to be conquered by the higher faculties of man.

Physically, it is easy to see how dependent humans are on their environment. Put a human in the vacuum of space and it cannot breathe, speak, or circulate blood as it needs to. It will soon die and no longer be a human. On the other hand, the idea that humans are above nature mentally has been supported for thousands of years.

This classic example also matters in present context due to the fact that psychological theories in effect today have been based on the concept that man and nature are two opposing factions in a tug-of-war. Common sense psychology and many forms of behavioral analysis begin with the assumption that the inner world of man creates his outer behaviors. This can be seen in human achievements caused by various motives. Castles and palaces, great orchestras, priceless paintings are all expressions of humankind's inner world.

Yet the human is dependent on its environment in order to create the physical manifestations of these inner feelings. If a painter had not seen the full spectrum of colors in their environment, their work would be without form. The mistake arises from seeing the environment of humankind as a passive set of elements, waiting to be molded to the will of the mind. By seeing the mind as the filter of its environment rather than the ruler of it, it may stand to reason that the two are inseparable after all.

Gia Vescovi-Chiordi
Last updated by Gia Vescovi-Chiordi

Born in Arizona, Gia is a writer and autodidact who fled the heat of the desert for California, where she enjoys drinking beer, overanalyzing the minutiae of life, and channeling Rick Steves. After arriving in Los Angeles a decade ago, she quickly nabbed a copywriting job at a major clothing company and derived years of editing and proofreading experience from her tenure there, all while sharpening her skills further with myriad freelance projects. In her spare time, she teaches herself French and Italian, has earned an ESL teaching certificate, traveled extensively throughout Europe and the United States, and unashamedly devours television shows and books. The result of these pursuits is expertise in fashion, travel, beauty, literature, textbooks, and pop culture, in addition to whatever obsession consumes her next.

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