There are many ways in which botanical ecology can be studied in the field or in the laboratory setting. Botanical ecology involves two areas of human activity: seeking to satisfy curiosity and striving to find out how what is learned and observed can lead to practical applications.
Botanical ecology can be described as a field of study to determine, among many other things, how plants contribute to our atmosphere, respond to events and changes in their habitat, interact with each other, are affected by the introduction of alien species, operate within plant communities or operate in controlled settings where variables such as space, water composition and PH and other factors are manipulated.
The way that plants work and behave tells us how the natural world affects living things and how living things affect the natural world. In light of the massive ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, studies in botanical ecology will take on even more importance, both in the field and in the controlled artifical environment.
In the field, botanists might simply observe the behavior and functions of plants over time. They may do nothing to alter the habitat or the plants themselves, while identifying, classifying, examining and measuring the plants that are collected in the field and examined in the laboratory.
Or, botanists may physically get involved by taking samples, manipulating various environmental aspects, or even introducing various types of modified or carefully selected plants in order to see what happens.
The use of pesticides, for example, may require plantings followed by microscopic, chemical, cellular and DNA studies of the affect of pesticides on plants. Changing the aspects of water, nutrients, exposure to light, protective apparatus to prevent sunburn and other aspects might be studied in larger plantings or in naturally growing plant communities.
Field environmental studies might involve examining, testing and modifying the soil, water, atmosphere, access to sunlight and other critical factors in plant growth and reproduction. These studies might go on for decades as tree growth and development is studied, or they might be briefer, but thorough and periodic examinations of vast areas of forest, grassland or the other plant biomes of the planet.
The animal/plant interactions might be studied, as animals and insects eat or damage plants and tree trunks or they spread seeds and pollen through their hooves, fur and paws. Animals and other life forms are integral to the composition and quality of the soil, where some will trample the soil, compacting it and preventing growth. Others might enhance or change the quality of soil by burrowing and digging through it. Others might overgraze, starting the process of desertification.
Botanists study how the animal and human kingdoms affect the whole of plant life.
Controlled field studies can involve hundreds of acres of plantings in the natural environment, or they can involve large or tiny greenhouses where all of the environmental factors and exposures can be carefully controlled. These studies, however, can alter the natural environment in large ways and in ways that prevent the careful controls of variables that are required for purely scientific experimentation. Also, the changes can affect large areas for long after the experiment is ended.
An interesting example was in the controlled growth of cloned Eucalyptus trees in Northern California in the hopes that the trees would provide a rapidly growing and sustainable crop for firewood.
To find out more about plant field studies or closed studies, contact a nearby botany or agriculture school to see if there are tours during open houses, field days, or visitor access to field research centers, some of which are quite extensive. This will be an enjoyable, educational and lasting experience!
Biology Reference: “Field Studies in Plant Ecology”