Ecology/Introduction to the Guide
This is a study guide to basic ecology, a textbook at Wikibooks filed under environmental sciences, and intended to establish a course of study in the subject of Basic Ecology, utilizing articles provided in Wikipedia, with links to other relevant web sites and other Wikibooks as appropriate. In some cases, portions of the text from Wikipedia articles have been used to materially develop introductory text within the book.
For the new user, it need be pointed out that Wikipedia differs from a standard encyclopedia in two important respects: 1) it is a hypertext document, and 2) it is open and editable, and therefore constantly changing. For the student following this or any guide through Wikipedia to cover a specific subject, it is recommended that each article (page) be read first in its entirety, before any hyperlinks are followed to other topics or explanations. It is too easy, otherwise, to simply become lost in a maze of links, and miss the main thrust of an article presented as an assignment from the Guide. Because Wikipedia is constantly changing (and, it is believed, improving) the quality of each article encountered will be variable. Some articles are well written and go to adequate depth, whereas others, lacking a proponent, may be are shallow and incomplete. Short or sloppy looking articles may contain questionable facts. These short-comings should diminish with time, but can be a problem for the student.
One clear advantage to using this Guide linked to a hypertext like Wikipedia is a circular redundancy with serendipity factor that arises when an article is read and its hyperlinks followed; this factor can be a powerful learning tool. The persistent reader is subjected to a fairly high degree of repetitive reading, often presenting slightly differing perspectives on the same general topic, with the result that learning comes from redundancy and seeing difficult concepts presented in more than one way. At the same time, some hyperlinks lead down less relevant paths, bringing new and unanticipated knowledge. If, as a student, you are truly interested in mastering the subject of basic ecology, you must be prepared to read beyond the basic assignments; in some cases, beyond Wikipedia to explore other, "outside" web sites.
It seems likely that the typical user of Ecology is not necessarily an active student taking a course in biology or ecology at the high school (AP) or college level, but a person with a strong interest in environmental sciences—an amateur naturalist or an environmentalist. Therefore the guide will attempt to cover all of the basic principles of ecology in a logically organized manner with the ultimate intent of providing a solid foundation in the subject matter. It is assumed that the student has already a background in—or certainly at least a good knowledge of—biology. Because "ecology" is a large and diverse subject, organization of the material becomes the key to a successful "guide" textbook.