6 Best Ecology Textbooks | March 2017

We spent 34 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Whether you are planning a career as an environmental scientist or are simply concerned about the environment and want to gain a through understanding of how it works, one of these ecology textbooks will help provide much-needed information. Do your cash-strapped college-bound friend or family member a favor and buy one (or more) for him or her. Skip to the best ecology textbook on Amazon.
6 Best Ecology Textbooks | March 2017

Overall Rank: 3
Best Mid-Range
Overall Rank: 4
Best High-End
Overall Rank: 1
Best Inexpensive
The slim, spiral-bound book called "Field and Laboratory Methods for General Ecology" is meant to be brought out of the classroom and into nature and then to come along into the lab when you test the various samples you have gathered. It helps bring ecology to life.
The book Ecology: The Economy of Nature has been a mainstay of the field for years, but recently enjoyed a major update process. The text now has been fully integrated with a myriad types of media, working with websites, downloadable materials, and other resources.
Thomas A. Smith and Robert Leo Smith bring over 50 years of combined experience in teaching and writing about the practice and study of ecology. Their textbook Elements of Ecology is now enjoying its ninth edition, and is sure to remain a staple for years to come.
The authoritatively titled book Ecology (Third Edition) by Cain, Bowman, and Hacker covers topics across a range as diverse as plant-soil interactions, marine spatial planning, and ecosystem-based management. Or, in other words, it covers a huge range of ecological issues.
  • decent price for advanced textbook
  • recent chapter covers behavioral ecology
  • tends toward loquacity
Brand Ecology (Third Edition)
Model pending
Weight 4.1 pounds
The book Fundamentals of Ecology, by Eugene P. Odum and Gary W. Barrett, is one of the more expensive texts on the topic, so it should only be purchased by students planning to go beyond the fundamentals with time. That said, it establishes a comprehensive understanding.
  • first pub. in 1953, continually updated
  • must-read for environmental scientists
  • easy to read and internalize
Brand Brand: Cengage Learning
Model pending
Weight 6.3 pounds
The textbook Ecology: Concepts and Applications is now in its sixth edition, is widely praised for its content and its writing, and is, at least by the standards of advanced-level textbooks, actually fairly priced, even for those on a student's budget.
  • covers concrete, applied concepts
  • contains primer on natural history
  • great reviews from readers
Brand Brand: McGraw-Hill Scie
Model pending
Weight 2.6 pounds

What Do Ecology Textbooks Cover?

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 off the needs of the reader. While textbooks usually find their way to schools and universities, many others can benefit from them as well.

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 which 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 heath care practices, laid what could be considered the foundation for modern ecology. While these early thinkers misunderstood certain concepts which 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.

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.

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Last updated: 03/28/2017 | Authorship Information