Habitat and Niche are an important parts of an ecosystem. They help describe an organism’s interaction with its environment, including biotic and abiotic agents. Ecology is the study of these interactions.
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Table of Content:
|Habitat vs Niche
|Definition of Habitat
|Definition of Niche
Habitat and Niche are closely related terms having a thin line of difference. Niche is the specific role any particular species plays in an ecosystem. Niche mainly describes how a species contribute to the energy flow of the system, how it gains energy and supplies it further in the system, e.g. if the species is a producer or consumer etc. In contrast, Habitat is the physical place where any particular species lives and adapts to environmental conditions, e.g. mountains or grassland.
Habitat is a part of an ecosystem, whereas niche plays a vital role in forming an ecosystem. Habitat is the “address”, whereas Niche is the “profession”.
Difference between Habitat and Niche
The table below shows the main difference between habitat and niche:
|A habitat is a particular place where organisms live, i.e. address.
|A niche defines a specific role played by organisms in an ecosystem, i.e. profession.
|Habitat is not species-specific, and many species can occupy the same habitat.
|Niche is species-specific, and it supports only a single species.
|Habitat consists of several niches.
|Niche is specific to a particular species, which may overlap with a similar niche but must have distinct differences.
|Habitat is a superset of niche.
|Niche is a subset of habitat.
|Examples: desert, ocean, mountains, grassland, forest, etc.
|Examples: different trophic positions occupied by Darwin’s finches.
What is a Habitat? – Definition of Habitat
“A habitat is a place or area where a species grows, lives or thrives.”
Temperature, sunlight, rainfall, types of soil, etc. and other abiotic factors determine the presence of organisms in an area. These factors prevailing in an area determine the best-suited species for that environment.
Habitat is the best-suited condition for a species and provides ideal conditions for a species to grow, adapt, reproduce and flourish.
It is the energy or nutrient-providing area for an organism. The habitat of a species describes the totality of abiotic factors to which the species is exposed in the area.
Examples of habitats include deserts, ponds, freshwater lakes, oceans, mountains, grassland, forest, etc.
What is a Niche? – Definition of Niche
“Niche is defined as a functional role played by an organism in its ecosystem.”
Joseph Grinnel coined the term “Niche”. He described a niche as the distributional unit specific to each species. He emphasised that no two species living in the same territory can occupy the same ecological niche for long.
The ecological niche not only involves the physical space occupied by an organism but also describes the functional role or place of a species in its community structure. This includes everything related to how it influences a community, i.e. what it eats, where it lives, what it does, the trophic position occupied, etc. Niche describes how a species contributes to the system’s energy flow and how it gains energy and supplies it further in an ecosystem.
There are three aspects of an ecological niche:
- Spatial or habitat niche: It accounts for the physical space occupied by an organism. This explains the different microhabitats owned by several species having similar general habitats. E.g. seven species of millipedes reside in the same general habitat of the forest floor of a maple oak forest, and all are decomposers, i.e. occupy the same trophic level but predominate in their specific microhabitat that is created by several gradients in the decomposition stage.
- Trophic Niche: It tells about the functional role or trophic position occupied by a species. It explains how different species share the same habitat but occupy different trophic niches. E.g. Darwin’s finches of the Galapagos islands. These birds belong to the same genera and live in the same general habitat but differ in their eating habits, i.e. trophic position. One species is vegetarian, feeding on buds and fruits, and, others are insect eaters, feeding on insects of different sizes. There is a woodpecker finch, which has a wood-pecking beak.
- Hypervolume or multidimensional niche: It represents the position of a species in the environmental gradient. There are a large number of environmental factors, both abiotic and biotic, that affect the population. This is the fundamental niche of the species and refers to the totality of abiotic and biotic factors to which a given species is uniquely adapted.
Niche is specific to a particular species, no two species can fill the same niche. The two similar niches can overlap but there must be distinct differences to avoid competition for the same resources.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How do habitats and niches differ?
Habitat can be described as the place where an organism thrives, whereas niche is referred to as the role an organism plays in the environment.
What is the importance of an ecological niche?
Ecological niches allow two species to coexist without any competition. It promotes diversity and also maintains a balance in the food chain.