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In contrast to the study of ecosystems, organismal ecology focuses on individuals and species. CBL scientists in this area address two fundamental questions: How does a species or organism function in this environment? And, how does the environment influence that species or organism? Investigating aquatic life ranging from minute sedimentary worms to predatory fishes, CBL's ecologists are furthering knowledge of the physiological characteristics of organisms, their place in the food web, and the physical and chemical processes influencing or in some cases, resulting from their activities. Another important factor they consider is species variability; understanding individual variation within species is key to understanding how communities have developed as they have, as well as how individuals and species respond to change.
A research area within organismal ecology is ecotoxicology how individuals and niches respond to a new biotic or abiotic stress. Such studies not only increase knowledge of the consequences of anthropogenic stresses, but also of how variation plays into evolutionary processes, for instance, how it can enable one species to outcompete another.
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