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Thinking Ecologically

"Organism and environment constitute the real whole, so that ecology, the science which deals with both in their relation to each other, is becoming increasingly valuable as a major science helping us to understand the world."

B. W. Wells
The Natural Gardens of North Carolina; with Keys and Descriptions of the Herbaceous Wild Flowers Found Therein
1932

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B. W. Wells conducting field research at Holly Shelter Game Land
ca. 1945

When Wells first saw the Big Savannah, ecology was an emerging science focused on explaining plant distribution in relation to environmental factors such as climate, soil, topography, and fire as well as interactions with animals, microorganisms and other plants. Early ecologists used observation and experimentation to uncover the relationships of co-occurring groups of plants, called communities, and their habitats. A key component of their studies was the concept of succession-how and why the composition of a natural community changes over time until it is in balance with its environment.

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Wells (far left) with college colleagues taking a break from their botanical studies in Ohio.
1911

Though a botanist by training, Wells received his Ph.D. under the directorship of one of the founders of ecology, Henry Chandler Cowles. His experience in botanical field work and exposure to ecological concepts gave him the intellectual tools he needed to interpret and understand the beautiful panorama of flowers on the Big Savannah and other ecological questions posed throughout the state.

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