Natural HistoryEssential Knowledge for Naturalists
Introduction to Natural History
Natural History is the descriptive study of Nature, broadly defined. Natural History includes all aspects of Nature, from the beginnings of the physical universe, to plants, animals, weather, geology, ecology, and beyond. More than this, it is the study of life in the context of the environment that influences it. As human beings, we are all parts of Nature. Without understanding Nature, we can not fully understand ourselves, or our place in this world.
The study of Nature is a complex undertaking. A simple web site like this one can not truly do the topic justice, but what we can do is give you a broad overview and point you in the direction of understanding. To help you better conceptualize the natural world, the Natural History section of NeoNaturalist.com is separated into three parts: Components of Nature, Dynamics of Nature, and Stressors. The components of Nature are things like plants, animals, stars, and rocks. Natural processes are the forces that work on these components that guide how they inter-relate and interact. Stressors are also processes at work, but in our usage, they will be processes that are over-emphasized in some way to set the natural system out of balance.
We hope the information presented here will give you a broader and deeper understanding of Nature, and therefore, of yourself. We make no attempt to be encyclopedic, but if you do find something missing, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know what you think we should add here.
Components of NatureNature is made up of many different things. From the largest, such as giant sequoias, or great blue whales, down to the microscopic level, the pieces that make up Nature are innumerable and mind-boggling. The only way to get a real handle on this complexity is to simplify and categorize. Here is our attempt at doing just that. Yes, we know that biological taxonomists now believe there are more than two kingdoms of life. But, we think that as a practical matter, when dealing with nature, the plant and animal kingdoms will suffice for 95 percent of us. Browse these pages to learn a little about each of the broad categories of Nature, and then take a look at the pages under the next section to see how these components and the laws of Nature interact to create the complex mosaic of life of which each of us is a part.
The Atmosphere-Learn about the thin veil of gas that surrounds the Earth, and how its composition makes life possible on our planet.
Wildlife-Explore the diversity of animal life found in Nature, how it relates to other aspects of Nature,and what it means to you.
Energy-Without energy, Life could not exist. Explore the driving forces behind Nature and how they influence the lives and success of plants and animals
The Earth-The setting for the great play we call Nature, the substrate upon which all lives and communities are built, including bedrock and soils.
Plants-Autotrophic life in Nature. learn about plants, the great variety of different types of plants, their relationships, and what their presence may tell you about a particular area.
Water-An essential ingredent of life, water is at the same time abundant and scarce here on planet Earth. Explore water in nature, be it wetlands, streams, rivers, lakes, oceans, or ground water.
Dynamics of NatureNature is an ever-changing patchwork of creatures, plants, minerals, air and water, with energy being exerted in various ways upon and by these five essential elements of the natural world. The dynamic interplay among these factors is dictated by the laws of Nature, including physics, chemistry, and biology. (When dealing with humans and other animals, we could add psychology and sociology to the list as well.) The outcomes of this interplay are generally predictable. The results are the assemblages of plants and animals that we see around us every day. For example, weather and climate (functions of air, energy and the laws of physics) come together with soils and available seed sources to create the potential for certain plant communities in a particular area. Over time, these communities develop certain predictable characteristics if left undisturbed. We know not to look for plants that grow in tropical rain forests, for example, in Ohio or New York, because of the predictable way in which the components of nature interact.
Ecological Regions-Geographical Regions sharing cohesive environmental factors, such as climate, topography, soil types, and other important attributes, resulting in broad similarities of natural communities across a large area.
Biological Diversity-The diversity of life. You may have heard the term biodiversity or biological diversity, but do you know what it means? Find out here.
Natural Communities-Assemblages of plants and animals bound together by environmental factors, mutual advantage, and a bit of synchronicity, interacting with the environment to create a dynamic equilibrium.
Cycles-All of Nature is cyclic. Learn about natural cycles such as the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, seasons, nutrient cycles and more.
Stressors on Natural SystemsWhile the components of Nature and natural concepts combine to create what we see as ecosystems, wildlife habitat, and natural communities generally in a dynamic equilibrium, sometimes, one factor, or process can become over-emphasized. This may sometimes be due to a series of natural events, such as weather, lightening-caused fires, or cyclic outbreaks of native insects. Other times, this imbalance is caused by humans making changes to better themselves in the short term, without knowledge of the long-term implications of these changes. Factors or processes that are over-emphasized are termed "stressors". An example of this is the destruction of our rivers through inappropriate placement of impervious surfaces. The impervious surface is a stressor on the natural system that is in place. The system must adjust to a new equilibrium, which may cause other changes in the equilibrium as well. We do not immediately see that with concrete over the soil, rain water cannot infiltrate the ground as readily, runs off faster and in greater quantities, therefore changing the characteristics of the stream or river that receives the run off. If we do not understand this, we certainly will not understand that the stress of this change will alter the macroinvertebrate life of the stream, which in turn may impact the fish population. A new equilibrium will certainly be reached. The question becomes, will it be as rich in life, as self-sustaining, or as healthy? These questions, and the connection of human caused stressors to their impacts are important to make for us to really understand how to live in harmony with Nature, a place in the Universe into which we were born.
Fire-Fire is an integral part of Nature. Some ecological systems need a certain frequency and intensity of fire to be healthy, while others do not. See how human interference with natural fire regimes is a stressor that actually creates more intense fires although intended to do the opposite.
Invasive Species-Plants and Animals introduced by humans into an environment that did not naturally contain the organism can have disasterous consequences to the native plants and wildlife.
Fragmentation-Habitat Fragmentation is one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss in the world today. By splitting habitats into smaller and smaller patches, many species, and their dynamics, are altered for the worse. Find out about edge effects, patch size, and habitat loss and what it may mean to you.
Impervious Surfaces and Runoff-Concrete, asphalt, roads and rooftops: Their impacts on life and Nature, even miles and miles from the site of the shopping mall or industrial complex.