Limnology is the study of inland waters - lakes (both freshwater and saline), reservoirs, rivers, streams, wetlands, and groundwater - as ecological systems interacting with their drainage basins and the atmosphere. The limnological discipline integrates the functional relationships of growth, adaptation, nutrient cycles, and biological productivity with species composition, and describes and evaluates how physical, chemical, and biological environments regulate these relationships.
The word limnology is derived from the Greek limne - marsh, pond and Latin limnaea - thing pertaining to a marsh. Stated simply, limnology is the study of the structural and functional interrelationships of organisms of inland waters as their dynamic physical, chemical, and biotic environments affect them.
Freshwater ecology is the study of the structure, function, and change of organisms in fresh waters as affected by their dynamic physical, chemical, and biotic environments. Saline waters (> 0.3% or 3 g per liter) are excluded from this definition.
Freshwater biology is the study of the biological characteristics and interactions of organisms of fresh waters. This study is largely restricted to the organisms themselves, such as their biology, life histories, populations, or communities.
Limnology encompasses an integration of physical, chemical, and biological components of inland aquatic ecosystems with the drainage basin, movements of water through the drainage basin, and biogeochemical changes that occur en route, and within standing (lentic) waters and exchanges with the atmosphere. The lake ecosystem is intimately coupled with its drainage area and atmosphere, and with its running (lotic) waters and ground waters that flow, and metabolize en route, components of the land being transported to the lake.
Understanding of the causal mechanisms operating in and controlling our natural world is a primary objective of limnology because of the premier importance of fresh water for the well being of humankind. The greater our understanding, the higher the probability to predict accurately patterns of events within aquatic ecosystems in response to human manipulations and disturbances. A combination of analytical techniques is used to acquire that understanding:
Robert G. Wetzel
University of North Carolina
This page was written by Dr. Robert Wetzel in 2003. Dr. Wetzel was a long-time member of ASLO who passed away in 2005. During his long, distinguished and highly productive career (more than 400 journal articles, and 23 books), Dr. Wetzel received numerous accolades, including ASLO's prestigious G. Evelyn Hutchinson Medal (1992). He is missed and not forgotten!