A habitat is a natural environment where a particular organism lives and utilizes the resources of that place for its survival, food, shelter, protection, and mating.
- The term habitat has been derived from the Latin word, ‘habitāre’ which means ‘to inhabit’.
- The habitat of an organism is characterized by its physical and biological characteristics.
- The physical factors include the nature of the soil, availability of land, sunlight, temperature, and climatic conditions. The biological factors include the availability of food and the absence or presence of predators.
- The concept of habitat doesn’t always have to be a place as seen in parasitic organisms where the habitat can be the body of its host, parts of its host body, or a single cell.
- The main components of habitat include space, shelter, food, and water. Ideal habitat would constitute the appropriate amount of all these components, but that might not always be the case.
- Space is the area required by animals or plants to thrive, and the amount of that space varies from one species to another. For example, animals like carpenter ants might require few square inches of space for an entire colony, to develop colonies and find food. In contrast, cougars are solitary, territorial animals that require about 455 square kilometers of land to hunt and find a mate.
- Like animals, plants also require space in diameter and height. Thus a large plant with a thick trunk and massive height might not grow or thrive in areas like a park or a yard.
- The availability of food greatly influences the habitat or place chosen by animals to live. Even if enough space, water, and shelter are available, if there isn’t enough to feed on, that wouldn’t be suitable habitat.
- Water is another component of a habitat where all animals require some form of water, but the need for water might differ from one species to another.
- The shelter is the space required by organisms to protect themselves from predators and weather. The shelter can also be considered the space for eating, sleeping hunting, and raising a family.
- Habitats might change over time either due to major environmental changes like volcano, tornado, or due to changes in climate over a long period.
- Other changes might be due to human activities like deforestation, urbanization, and pollution.
Niche is the functional role and position of a species in its environment that describes how the species responds to the distribution of resources and competitors or predators.
- Like habitat, the niche is also determined by both the biotic and abiotic factors of the particular environment.
- However, a niche represents the interactions of a population with these factors and its effect on the environment and other organisms within the environment.
- For example, a population in an environment utilizes the resources and breeds to produce more organisms which then increases the resources for the predators.
- The term ‘ecological niche’ is commonly used while dealing with living beings as it involves the interaction of the organisms with the ecosystem.
- Niche is a part of the habitat of an organism and deals with what it does in the habitat to survive.
- Niche involves the flow of energy from one species to another, and thus it is important to understand how a species eats or interacts with other organisms.
- If a niche is left vacant, it can then be filled by some other species. However, some organisms might create a unique niche for themselves, which reduces the competition for resources with other species.
- However, it is also important for species to be able to adapt to changes in the ecosystem to protect themselves from extinction. For this reason, many species usually adapt or evolve to thrive under a wide range of environmental conditions.
- The type and number of variables that define an ecological niche vary from species to species, and the relative importance of these variables may also vary according to the geographical and biotic contexts.
- The full range of biotic and abiotic factors utilized by species for survival form the fundamental niche, and the factors that limit the population like competition and predations are called limiting factors.
- Based on the interactions of species with the physical and biological world, niches are of three types; spatial or habitat niche, trophic niche, and multidimensional niche.
- The spatial or habitat niche is the physical area within the habitat that a species occupies.
- Trophic niche is the trophic level occupied by the species in the food chain or ecological chain.
- The multidimensional niche consists of the concept of fundamental niche and the limiting factors.
Key Differences (Habitat vs Niche)
|Basis for Comparison||Habitat||Niche|
|Definition||A habitat is a natural environment where a particular organism lives and utilizes the resources of that place for their survival, food, shelter, protection, and mating.||Niche is the functional role and position of a species in its environment that describes how the species responds to the distribution of resources and competitors or predators.|
|Composed of||A habitat might have one or more niches.||A niche is a unit that doesn’t have further components.|
|Deals with||A habitat deals with the effect of temperature, climate, and similar factors on the survival of an organism.||A niche deals with the flow of energy from one species to another and its interaction with the abiotic factors.|
|Species||A habitat might support more than one species at a time.||A niche is specific to a species and only supports a single species of organisms.|
|Nature||Habitat is a physical space occupied by species.||Niche is the activities and interactions a species has with other species and the environments.|
|Represents||Habitat represents the address of an organism.||Niche represents the profession or occupation of an organism.|
|Specificity||Habitat is not specific to species.||Niche is specific to a particular species.|
|What is it?||Habitat is a superset that contains other components.||Niche is a subset of a habitat.|
|Size||Habitat is larger in size.||A niche is smaller than a habitat.|
|Trophic level||Habitat doesn’t indicate the trophic level of a species in an ecosystem.||Niche defines the trophic level of a species in an ecosystem.|
|Changes||Habitat of an organism remains the same for a longer period of time.||Living beings might change their niche within a shorter time like seasons.|
|Influence||Habitat of a species might influence its niche.||Niche is a result of the habitat and rarely affects the habitats of the species.|
|Types||The five major types of habitat include; forests, grasslands, deserts, mountains, and polar regions, and aquatic habitats.||The three major types of niche; spatial or habitat niche, trophic niche, and multidimensional niche.|
|Examples||Grasslands, lakes, mountains, deserts, etc., are some examples of habitat.||Birds in New Zealand, niches occupied by pandas are some examples of niches.|
Examples of Habitat
- Grasslands represent the areas that get more rainfall than desserts but less than that of forests.
- Most plants in these areas are grasses that do not require as much water as the large trees in the forests.
- Grasslands are present throughout the world except for Antarctica. These are usually found in the dry interior of continents surrounded by hills and mountains.
- Grasslands are categorized into two types; tropical grasslands and temporal grasslands.
- Tropical grasslands usually have fewer trees scattered throughout the grasslands while temporal might have more trees.
- Tropical grasslands are mostly found in East Africa and Australia, but temporal are mostly found in North America and Europe.
- The common animals found in grasslands include Giraffe, Buffaloes, Hyenas, Ground squirrels, Zebras, Bees, etc.
- Some common plants residing in grassland habitats include purple needlegrass, wild oats, foxtail, ryegrass, and buffalo grass.
- Oceans contain the greatest diversity of all habitats throughout the world. Animals and plants are found in freezing polar regions to warm deep sea to various thermal vents.
- The plants and animals living in such conditions adapt to various conditions like the movement of water, the amount of light, the temperature of the water, and its pressure.
- Species in marine habitats can be divided into two types; coastal and open ocean habitats. Coastal habitats contain areas that are far from the tides of the oceans towards the shoreline.
- Most of the animals and plants living in marine habitats are found in coastal habitats.
- The marine habitats are modified according to the type of organisms living in the areas that reshape the habitats for other groups of animals.
- The common animals found in marine habitats include fishes like sharks, stingray, rockfish, and some mammals like blue whale, seals, walrus, otters. Additional invertebrates like molluscs and some arthropods are also found in this habitat.
- Plants like sea cabbages, marsh grasses, coral reefs, along with algae and mosses are also present in marine habitats.
Examples of Niche
Birds in New Zealand
- Because New Zealand is an island separated from the rest of the world, it is utilized by some unique plants and animals as a niche.
- It includes few animals that are capable of flying or swimming, considering the distance of this place from the rest of the world.
- Historically, in the absence of animals, the native animals like flying birds of the place filled these niches.
- The flying birds were the first known predators of this place. However, due to the absence of land animals, these birds eventually flew down on the land to fill up the niche, eventually becoming flightless.
- Large birds like the Giant Moa grew up to 12 ft in height and about 500lb in weight, in the place of large mammals.
- Birds like Kiwi live on land occupying niches of small mammals like mice and moles, feeding on seeds and insects.
- The common birds present in New Zealand are South Island takahē, the Kakapo Parrot, and the Giant Moa.
- Panda bears have specialized niches where they have a limited diet, primarily feeding on bamboo.
- Pandas do not move very far to reserve the very little energy they gather from such bamboos.
- In order to preserve the available energy, they do not indulge in interspecific or intraspecific competition.
- These are also no natural predators and they reproduce about once in two years to keep the population small in order to avoid the competition.
- Their niche is specialized, which is why it is also highly sensitive to human activities.
- They feed and live mostly around the bamboo trees which are increasingly destroyed by humans for farmland or mining.
- These are now mostly limited to temperate or humid bamboo forests of South Western China.
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