Skip to content
Binogi logo

Subjects

Ecological niche, biotope and habitat

Ecological niche, biotope and habitat

Video thumbnail
Play

What do we call the way a species lives and the function that it has in its environment?

Ecological niche, biotope and habitat

Are you the class clown? Are you the cool one, or the smart one that knows it all? Maybe you are the one who thinks you know nothing, but friends tell you, you do know things and you could be so much more? It's the same in nature. Everything plays a different role.

To survive, all species have a clear strategy for surviving: an ecological niche. In school, maybe some roles don't work as well as others, but in nature they all cooperate and function as one. Every species in nature has its own specialism: its own way to utilize the surrounding resources of food, water, protection, and dwelling places - its own way to meet the competition from other species. This is called the species' ecological niche. An ecological niche is not only about how the species lives in a certain place - but also what function it fills.

Fungi and some bacteria decompose dead plants and animals, and by doing so, release nutrients. They are decomposers. As a species develops strategies to find food, this affects its ecological niche. Some easily adapt to different conditions: Rats have moved into our cities to find better food, breeding places, and partners. They seize opportunities, they are: opportunists.

But some other species have specialised into a narrower ecological niche. The white-backed woodpecker is extremely specialised: It only eats larvae and insects that live in the wood of dead and dying deciduous broad-leaved trees. It might seem like a picky eater, but by eating something no other species wanted, there was no competition, and this woodpecker was more sure of its food supply. Unfortunately, because the white-backed woodpecker is so highly specialised, it's becoming extinct in several countries, since many deciduous forests have disappeared due to forestry and deforestation. In addition to opportunists and specialists there is a third type of survival strategist in nature.

Species that take charge of a place first are called pioneers. The ground doesn't stay bare long after a fire in the forest. Several fast-growing plants - whose seeds have been triggered by the fire's warmth - quickly cover the ground. When other plants begin rooting again, the pioneers are pushed out. But the pioneers have already spread their seeds, which now lie dormant in the ground...

waiting for the next fire. An ecological niche implies how a species finds food, water, shelter, and breeding places, as well as the functions it fills in the environment. But the place that the species inhabits, the home of the plant or animal, is called its habitat. A region defined by natural boundaries, with characteristic environmental conditions - and types of fauna and flora - is called a biotope. This could be a deciduous forest, a meadow, or a lake.

All the individuals of the same species, inhabiting the same region, at the same time, are a population. All the populations in the same biotope, at the same time, they form a community. Just like the community you live in.