Habitat – Concept, types, examples, and what is an ecological niche

We explain what is a habitat and the existing known types. We also exemplify by lion’s and jaguar’s habitats, and we talk about ecological niches.

habitat forest bears
A habitat offers the appropriate conditions for the development of a species.

What is a habitat?

A habitat is the physical place or area where a certain community of organisms inhabits, whether they are animals, fungi, plants or even microorganisms (microhabitat).

It refers to the environment whose conditions are appropriate for the community in question to grow, develop and reproduce. Depending on the needs of that community, the habitat can be as wide as a forest, as big as a city, or as narrow as the intestinal tract of a human.

This concept is used in both biology and ecology, as well as in architecture and urban planning. The latter works in correlation to the plans invisioned by human beings (anthropic). Although there are several definitions of the term, they all deal with the location of life: the place where a biotic element can be found. We can’t call habitats places where there is no life.

The term habitat should not be confused with that of ecological niche. If habitat narrows down to a specific species, the ecological niche designates complex life relationships of community of organisms located within a habitat compared to other competing or complementary species. The ecological niche takes into account specific environmental conditions. There can be many different ecological niches within a habitat.

Habitat types

marine habitatThe sea is the habitat for many living things, whether the bottom of the sea or at the surface.

Generally, there are three types of habitats:

  • Marine habitats are located in the hydrosphere – any region of the oceans and seas, either on the surface or in the depths.
  • Terrestrial habitats are located in the geosphere – on the mainland, on any of the continents or geological features that compose them: mountains, valleys, plains, etc.
  • Inland water habitats are located in fresh waters – lakes, rivers and other bodies of fresh water, far from the sea.

Examples of habitats

Habitat examples is an extremely complex and varied topic. A lake and its tributary rivers may be the habitat of a certain type of salmon, while the surrounding forest may be the habitat of the bear that will try to capture them when they swim and jump upstream.

At the same time, the high part of the mountains from where the river descends can be the habitat of large birds such as the eagle, while, on the other side, the delta or the mouth of the river could be the habitat of certain types of crocodile.

It all depends on the perspective. In fact, while you are reading this article, we could safely state that you are in your “built” habitat: the city or the town where you live.

Lion’s habitat

habitat lion africa savannahThe lion‘s habitats are dry and warm, like the African savanna.

Lions currently have a fairly restricted habitat. They can be found in certain territories of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as certain regions of India and Southeast Africa, especially in savannas and grasslands, extensive, dry and hot regions, in which it reigns on top of the food chain as the greatest predator.

Currently there are few lions that live an authentic wild life, as a species highly threatened with extinction. Lion’s sources of food are reduced to just a few and the encounters with the humans are always dangerous, in many cases even fatal.

Jaguar’s habitat

jaguar - amazon brazilA jaguar in the Amazon rainforest.

The jaguar is found in the humid and humid temperate tropical forests of the American continent. In North America, jaguars live especially in Mexican forests (such as Sonora or Yucatán), but also in Guatemala, El Salvador. Some live in the south-western part of the USA.

Its population is more abundant in South America, in the Amazon region shared by Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. It is also possible to find them in the Patagonian forests of Chile and Argentina, where they are known as yaguareté.

Ecological niche

An ecological niche is the way in which a species or a community of organisms position themselves within a specific habitat in relation with the environmental conditions (advantageous, disadvantageous) and the other species that coexist in the given space (predators, prey, commensals, etc.).

In other words, when talking about the ecological niche of a species, we refer to the specific relationship with the other elements living in the same ecosystem.

Thus, there can be two different types of ecological niche:

  • Fundamental ecological niche refers to an area within an ecosystem able to provide the minimum conditions that a specific species requires to survive and reproduce.
  • Realized ecological niche refers to the same previous conditions, but within the framework of competition and interrelation with the other species.