We explain what is habitat, what is ecological niche, and what are its differences. In addition, some specific examples of both.
What is habitat and ecological niche?
These terms are often used when talking about animal species, as if they were synonyms. But they are not and later we will see why.
The habitat refers to the physical place where a particular organism lives , be it animal, fungus, plant or microorganism . It is the environment whose physical conditions are conducive for it to grow, develop and reproduce. However, this environment is usually populated by one or several species, and can be as wide as a forest , or as small as the stones of the sea coast or even the intestinal tract of another living being .
The ecological niche is a concept that alludes to the way in which a specific species or a set of organisms is positioned within a specific habitat and always in relation to both the environmental conditions and the other species that cohabit in that space. In other words: the ecological niche of a species is its punctual relationship with the other elements of its ecosystem .
Thus, two different types of ecological niche are usually identified:
- Fundamental or potential . It is thought from the minimum conditions that a given species (and only it) requires to subsist.
- Cash or actual . It is thought from those same needs, but within the framework of competition and interrelation with other species.
In conclusion, in the same habitat many ecological niches can be identified, as many as there are species.
For example : In a rainforest (habitat) we can find many species of birds and frogs, but each one has its specific ecological niche: the first will be the predators and prey of the treetops, while the second will be the wet spaces of the foliage.
Differences between habitat and ecological niche
These concepts are distinguished fundamentally in the approach to the life of the species that each one offers . As we have said, the notion of habitat hardly refers to the physical environment in which an animal develops biologically, and in which it is possible to identify many other species, since life never occurs in isolation.
On the other hand, when we talk about an ecological niche, we start from understanding the species in question within the ecological dynamics in which it inhabits and develops, that is, it inserts into an ecosystem within which it plays a specific role. The struggle for survival, as evidenced by Darwin’s concepts, implies numerous types of relationships with the biotic (living) and abiotic (inanimate) environment, and in the ecological niche they are all taken into account.
Examples of habitat and ecological niche
Here are some specific examples of habitat and ecological niche:
- Common cockroach ( Periplaneta americana ) . Their habitat is varied, since they are tremendously adaptable, but it is possible to find them in urban contexts, such as dark and warm buildings or the interior of the sewers. Its ecological niche has to do with its role as urban scavengers, especially nocturnal, fast and massive reproduction that makes them a pestilence for urban communities , where their natural predators are not abundant, such as scorpions, spiders, birds and amphibians.
- Common hawk ( Accipter nisus ) . Its habitat is the wooded areas of scattered trees, frequent in the temperate regions of Europe and Asia. Its ecological niche positions it as an important predator of small bird species, although they can also eat chicks directly from the nest or even carrion, and sometimes small mammals such as bats. It is a very adaptable carnivorous bird, which in turn serves as a livelihood for owls, eagles, falcons and foxes.
- Common paramecio ( Paramecium aurelia ) . The habitat of this unicellular organism is stagnant waters or the banks of rivers and ponds. Its ecological niche has to do with acidic waters rich in bacteria , from which this microorganism feeds. They play an important role in the decomposition of organic matter in aquatic ecosystems and providing sustenance for larger protists and extremely small animals.