The word ecology
was first used in print in 1869 by Ernst Haeckel
. He defined it as the scientific study of the interaction
s between organisms and their environment
, the word is derived from the Greek oikos
, which means 'home
Ecology was largely a descriptive science from the late 19th century until the middle of the 20th (with the notable exceptions of Vito Volterra, Alfred J. Lotka and Frederick E. Clements), when a couple of luminaries brought mathematical rigour to the field. From the late 1950s to present, ecologists have striven to transform the field from one of pure description to a hard science. However, the field got side-tracked for a couple of decades with a purely reductionist philosophy, where ecologists thought they could fully understand all the functionings of an ecosystem given sufficient time and study. History has proved this approach to be fundamentally flawed, given that nature is severly non-linear, scale-dependent and generally nasty to describe.
Foremost among the critics of descriptivist ecology was Rob Peters, a leading Canadian ecologist, wrote a book in 1991 called A critique for ecology, in which he proposes that the principal problem with the science of ecology in the modern day is the obsession with problems of solely theoretical interest. He believed* that ecologists should ignore the purely theoretical and strive to find the predictive; that is, ignore the fact that at times we may not understand all of the interactions and processes that govern an ecosystem and instead content ourselves with the knowledge that we have find relationships that help us to manage environmental problems.
In sum, he thought that finding the 'Grand Unifying Theory' for ecology was not only a waste of time but also detrimental given that we have overwhelming problems in the modern world and limited time and talent with which we can attack these problems.
Unfortunately, Rob Peters died in the late 1990s of stomach cancer
in middle age.