This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 17, 2008 - Scientists who study ecology view the world as a patchwork quilt of different environments, all bordering on and interacting with one another.
Consider for a moment a patch of Missouri forest, the sort of place a deer or turkey might live. Ecologists call the collection of creatures that live in a particular place a community — all the animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms that live together in a Missouri forest, for example, are the forest community. Ecologists call the place where a community lives its habitat — the soil, and the water flowing through it, are key components of the forest habitat. The sum of these two, community and habitat, is an ecological system, or ecosystem.