The internal logic of geographical study has tended to split the subject into two parts:
(i) Physical geography, and
(ii) Geography of human creations known as ‘human geography’.
In other words, human geography is that part of the discipline of geography which deals with the spatial differentiation and organization of human activity and with human use of the physical environment.
The concept of human ecology was put forward by the American geographers who had belief in Social Darwinism.
It was H.H. Barrows, who in his presidential address to the Association of American Geographers in 1923, declared that “human geography is human ecology”. The followers of this school tried to establish an interactive relationship between man and his biotic and a biotic element of environment.
They opined that a struggle for existence must take place; it followed that those who survived were better fitted to the environment than their competitors. Relatively superior adaptations increase; relatively inferior ones are eliminated.
The central idea of human ecology is that man, like plants and animals, has to struggle in his physical environment and in this process of struggle the weaker gets eliminated.
The advocates of human ecology also believed that the ecological principles, e.g., the food chain, the web model etc., are applicable to all aspects of biology, from plants to animals to people.
The discipline of human geography as human ecology was further strengthened by the works of Lamarckian who emphasized that organism could consciously adapt themselves to their surroundings and pass on acquired characteristics to off springs.
The Ratzel’s organismic conception of state, the Division geomorphology, the environmental determinism of Simple, Huntington and Taylor, the regional geography of Herbert son, the landscape ecology of Sauer, and the anthropological human geography of Fleure all prove to some or greater extent that human geography is human ecology.
The approach of taking human geography as human ecology has, however, been criticized on several counts.
This definition puts man at par with plants and animals, who is also supposed to struggle in his environment for survival.
But man is a tool-making, tool-using and culture-making animal. Man, through his knowledge, scientific advancement and innovations, transforms the habitats and ecosystems drastically to fulfill his material needs.
For his food, he is not dependent on his environment; at the time of droughts and inadequacies of foods, he may import cereals and other commodities from the distant regions which may save his species.
Moreover, he possesses the power, skill and technology to grow tropical crops (rice, sugarcane, rubber, spices, etc.) in the temperate and frigid regions under artificial conditions and vice versa. Thus, the human life is not exclusively controlled by his habitat and natural environment.
Contrary to this, he himself is a great agent of transformation in his physical surroundings.
The principles of ecology do not apply on human societies with the same magnitude as they apply on plants and animals. Human geography, therefore, cannot and should not be taken as human ecology.