Ecology and Evolution

What's the difference between a niche and a habitat?
Answered by Animal Planet
  • Animal Planet

    Animal Planet

  1. The two are closely related, in a symbiotic sort of way, but the distinctions are nonetheless clear. An organism's niche is its unique position in the ecosystem. A habitat denotes the physical place where the organism lives. The characteristics of a habitat can be used to help define the niche, but they can't describe it entirely. In addition to habitat features, a niche must also reflect an organism's behaviors and any external variables, such as temperature or wind, that affect those behaviors.

    Taking a closer look at a niche, an ecological niche is the very particular environment in which a species has evolved to live. Over time, through the process of natural selection, a species can adapt in a number of ways until it is quite successful within a specific environment. The species may be so well adapted, however, that it is unlikely to thrive in a different environment. Having said that, however, two ecological niches that are similar can likely influence the evolution of parallel species. This means that two related species living a world apart may evolve with similar traits. Wildebeests and North American cattle, for example, are two different species that have developed incredibly similar traits because they evolved in similar ecological niches.


    Habitats, of course, can vary wildly. In textbook definition terms, they must provide organisms in their populations with essentials such as food, warmth, water, minerals and oxygen. If these things are provided sufficiently, it will prompt the organisms in that habitat to remain. If these things can't be provided, then the population will simply move elsewhere [source: Franklin Institute]. To find examples of habitats, all you have to do is look around. There are mountain habitats, marine habitats, desert habitats -- you get the idea: Pretty much any area supporting a population of organisms.

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