The terms Habitat and Niche are very commonly used terms while studying ecology. Habitat is the basic residential status of a species, while niche refers to the role of a species in an ecosystem. It refers to how a species gets its nutrition and contributes to the stability of the ecosystem.
To understand Habitat and niche, we take the following example. Suppose you teach in a school. You take a lecture in Room no.7. You teach life sciences; three other teachers teach mathematics, English, and Geography in the same room.
So School is your Habitat, room no. 7 is your micro-habitat, and every teacher’s subjects are their respective niches. Your niche is Life Sciences. A similar distribution also exists in every Habitat.
In this article, we will go through all the details related to Habitat and niche, plus their comparison, along with examples.
- The word ‘habitat’ is derived from the Latin word which means ‘ to live and dwell’.
- Habitat refers to a natural environment in which a species lives and utilizes the resources of this environment for its nutrition, reproduction, and protection.
Types of Habitat
- Habitat is broadly divided into two types; Terrestrial and Aquatic. Terrestrial or Land Habitat includes Forests habitat, Arid or Desert Habitat, Polar regions, Grasslands, and Tropical rainforests.
- Aquatic Habitat includes oceans, freshwater bodies, river, lakes, ponds, and swamp habitats.
- Each type of habitat is distinguished based on natural resources such as plants and physical factors such as temperature, suitable for a particular type of organism. An organism living in polar regions can never survive in a desert.
Components of a Habitat
- A habitat is composed of biological and physical components. The physical components of habitat include temperature, nature of the soil, vegetation, water, and sunlight.
- The biological components of habitat include biodiversity, i.e., the presence of type and number of other species in the same habitat. Other biological factors include the availability of food and conducive conditions to dwell
- All these components (physical and biological) determine the nature of the habitat and the animals that inhabit it.
- Any artificial change in habitat, such as cutting down vegetation or removing certain species from habitat, can have catastrophic effects on the species inhabiting it.
Changes in Habitat
- A habitat can have changes in its composition over time. Some of these changes can be natural such as flooding, drought, or volcanic eruption.
- Humans can enforce other changes, such as hunting of species, deforestation, or pollution.
- All these changes adversely affect the natural distribution of species in the habitat.
- Changes in the composition of habitat can lead to species migration or sometimes extinction of the species.
- Any species that gets ‘extinct’ can never be brought back on the earth by any means.
- The term ‘niche’ was coined in 1957 by G. Evelyn Hutchinson, who got the answer to why several organisms are present in the same habitat.
- A niche refers to a species’ functional role or occupation in its habitat that determines how the species responds to the competition of limited space and resources within the same habitat.
Types of Niche
We usually divide niche into three categories; spatial niche, trophic niche, and multidimensional niche.
- A spatial niche refers to the physical area or part of the habitat that a particular species occupies. It means that every species occupies a microhabitat in habitat and usually remains confined to that microhabitat because the food and nutrition of the species are maximum in that part of the habitat.
- A trophic niche refers to the organism’s trophic level (or energy level) in the food cycle. There is a constant energy flow among the organisms present in a habitat. For example, A lion is a carnivore; it always preys on other animals. So, carnivore is the trophic niche of the lion.
- Multidimensional niche- It is also called the hypervolume niche. Multidimensions, in this case, are the different environmental and climatological limitations within which a species survives. We know every species has a tolerable temperature scale within which it survives. So, this particular temperature range, along with other physical factors, will be considered the multidimensional niche of the organism.
Significance of Niche
- A niche is the designated role of every species living in the same environment. Niche ensures that the resources get recycled in habitat.
- When occupying different niches, different species minimize the competition among the organisms, making the habitat stable.
- Suppose we understand the concept of niche for every organism in a habitat. In that case, we will be able to study different aspects of that habitat, such as distribution of resources, predator-prey relationship, symbiosis, and life pattern of each species.
- If all the species inhabiting habitat occupy the same niche, it will lead to the destruction of habitat and exploitation of available resources.
Differences between Niche and Habitat
|Definition||A habitat is a place where a species lives, i.e. the address of a species||A niche is the role of a species that it plays while living in a community, i.e. the profession of the species|
|Specificity||A habitat is not confined to only one species||Niche is a species-specific term.|
|Size||A habitat is larger in size so it includes more organisms||A niche is smaller in size.|
|Unit||A habitat is a larger unit. One Habitat can have several niches.||Niche is a smaller unit. There can be several niches in a single habitat.|
|Significant Aspects||The significant aspects of a habitat include its temperature, climate, and resources in that habitat.||The significant aspects of the niche include the presence of competition, the flow of energy, and the trophic level of that niche.|
|Changes||A species usually does not change its habitat.||A species can change its niche according to its need. Factors like Competition, Seasons, Resources affect force species to change their niche.|
|Effect||Habitat can affect the niche||A niche is the smaller unit so a niche can not affect the habitat.|
|Types||Types of habitat include Grasslands, forests, deserts, polar and aquatic habitats.||Niches include spatial, trophic, and multidimensional niches.|
|Stability||A habitat is more stable and less prone to change.||A niche can change from time to time so it is not as stable as a habitat.|
|Example||All 13 types of finches live on the same Galapagos Island||Each different species of finches eat different types of food. They have different niches|
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Can the human body be a habitat?
Yes, the human body can be a habitat for many parasites. These parasites can be on the body (ectoparasite), e.g. lice or inside the body (endoparasite), e.g. tapeworms.
Q2. Can we predict the biodiversity in habitat from its physical conditions?
Yes, the physical conditions of habitat can give ideas about the types of organisms living in that habitat. For example, desert habitats will inhabit animals and plants adapted to tolerate high temperatures.
Q3. What happens when habitats and niches overlap?
When a niche overlaps in a habitat, it will lead to competition among organisms. This competition can be about space or food. In such conditions, the fittest of the species survive, and other species get eliminated from the habitat.
Q4. Can organisms of one habitat survive in another habitat?
If moving from one habitat to another, a species may not live because every habitat has its own physical and biological limits that confine the type of species they inhabit.
We briefly discussed what Habitat and a niche are, how they differentiate from each other, and the factors that make habitats and niches. In a nutshell, if you want to easily remember the two terms, Habitat is the address of the organism while niche is the profession of the organism.
All the life activities of an organism always remain limited within the boundaries offered by its niche, these boundaries can be physical constraints such as changes in temperature or biological constraints such as limited resources.