From the 1890s onward, the scientific study of ecology has been closely tied to concern for the future of the American environment. The ecological work of Henry C. Cowles and his contemporaries created a wealth of new knowledge about plant and animal communities and the complex ways in which they are interrelated. More important, by stressing the significance of environmental factors in the growth and decline of species, American ecologists of the early twentieth century helped increase public awareness of the vulnerability and fragility of the natural world.
The sections that follow describe some of the important steps taken by ecologists in studying the natural environment. The plant communities, ecological zones, and environments they researched are documented in visual form in the American Environmental Photographs Collection.
Additional information on these topics can be found in the Selected Bibliography on the History of American Ecology.