What is an Ecology Lab?

Ken Black

An ecology lab is a facility in which research regarding the ecology and environment can take place. The lab provides a controlled environment that can be used to test the effects of interaction between living organisms, including the effects of humans on plants and animals. The information uncovered in an ecology laboratory could be very beneficial in terms of shaping public policy, and protecting the environment.

Microscopic organisms, like these paramecia, are part of an area's ecology.
Microscopic organisms, like these paramecia, are part of an area's ecology.

There are a few things that nearly every ecology lab will have in common. There will usually be place to log and store specimens. There will also be an area for experimentation and observation. The tools available in the lab depend on its sophistication, and specialization. An ecology lab that focuses on molecular ecology will have instruments such as microscopes, slides, dyes and other materials necessary to observe very small objects not otherwise visible with the naked eye.

Autopsies may be conducted in an ecology lab.
Autopsies may be conducted in an ecology lab.

There are two major types of ecology labs. A research ecology lab is mainly for answering unknown questions, and determining what, if any, solutions are needed to the problems identified. An educational ecology lab is mainly used to teach students the proper laboratory techniques that will be employed in the ecology field. Some university labs may devote nearly equal time to both functions.

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Animals may be brought into an ecology lab for testing.
Animals may be brought into an ecology lab for testing.

An ecology lab may be used to answer any number of questions. For example, if the reproduction rates of a certain species is falling unexpectedly, animals, either dead or alive, may be brought in the lab for study. The work done in the ecology lab may be blood tests, autopsies and other tests to determine if there is a common cause that can be discovered.

An ecology lab facilitates the study of the environment.
An ecology lab facilitates the study of the environment.

Public policy research is also very important in some cases. For example, at Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory there is currently a research program for greenhouse mitigation. It notes that agricultural use results in a large consumption of fossil fuels, perhaps accounting for as much as a third of man-made global warming. If the laboratory can research and find more efficient ways to grow food, some of the negative effects of agricultural production may be reduced.

No matter how small or how big the project, an ecology lab serves a vital role in the science. While field studies can certainly provide a great deal of information, there are some observations that require a laboratory setting. Without controlled environments in which to study certain elements of nature, the cause and roots of problems would be very difficult to ascertain. Ecology labs help answer some of these very important questions.

University ecology labs are used for both research and to teach students the proper lab procedures.
University ecology labs are used for both research and to teach students the proper lab procedures.

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