The Ecological Niche

The concept of the ecological niche is an important one; it helps us to understand how organisms in an ecosystem interact with each other. The concept is described by Odum as follows:

The ecological niche of an organism depends not only on where it lives but also on what it does. By analogy, it may be said that the habitat is the organism’s “address”, and the niche is its “profession”, biologically speaking.

Odum – Fundamentals of Ecology – W B Saunders 1959

Here are a few examples to help you understand what we mean when we (ecologists) use the term “ecological niche”:

Oak trees live in oak woodlands; that’s common sense. The oak woodland is the habitat. So if Odum was writing a letter to an oak tree he would address the letter to:

Sir Deciduous Oak Tree,
The Oak Forest,
England,
U.K.

What do oak trees do? If you can answer that question you know the oak trees “profession” or its ecological niche. Perhaps you think that oak trees just stand there looking pretty and not doing vey much, but think about it.

Oak trees:

  1. absorb sunlight by photosynthesis;
  2. absorb water and mineral salts from the soil;
  3. provide shelter for many animals and other plants;
  4. act as a support for creeping plants;
  5. serve as a source of food for animals;
  6. cover the ground with their dead leaves in the autumn.

These six things are the “profession” or ecological niche of the oak tree; you can think of it as being a kind of job description. If the oak trees were cut down or destroyed by fire or storms they would no longer be doing their job and this would have a disastrous effect on all the other organisms living in the same habitat.

Hedgehogs in my garden also have an ecological niche. They rummage about in the flowerbeds eating a variety of insects and other invertebrates which live underneath the dead leaves and twigs in the flowerbeds. That is their profession. They are covered in sharp spines which protect them from predators, so being caught and eaten is not a part of their job description.

However, hedgehogs cannot groom themselves properly. All those spines on their backs make a superb environment or microhabitat for fleas and ticks.

My hedgehogs put nitrogen back into the soil when they urinate! I don’t know how much nitrogen they put into the soil but it probably helps the plants if they do. I think that they eat my slugs, so that reduces the effect which slugs have on the flowers.

So the idea of an ecological niche is very simple. You just need to know where the animal or plant lives and what it does.

9 Responses to The Ecological Niche

  1. Lucy Hurley says:

    Thank you very much. I’ve been reading and reading and really couldn’t understand what a niche was until now. Thank you!

  2. Anastasia Kostromin says:

    Wow. This really helped me understand what a niche is. Thanks!

  3. Francis Hamer says:

    The habitat i spend many hours in is my room. This habitat mostly consists of abiotic factors but there are many biotic factors too. Some abiotic factors are my Xbox 360, PC , gaming chair, books, and my Laptop.Some biotic factors are me, my brother, my dog, and my cat. And sometimes my other brother and sisters come in my room to so they count as biotic too.

    My niche within my habitat is clearly defined below. I put together a list i do in my room:
    1:Play Xbox360
    2:Read many books
    3:Watch Movies on my TV
    4: Help Brother on some Games
    5:Play video games on My Laptop
    6:Get dressed in the morning

    • I understand what you are trying to say, but it is not quite right. Your room is ony a part of the habitat; it is like a rabbit’s burrow,it just provides shelter. You have to go out to find food and so on. The abiotic factors in a habitat are things like temperature and light. The biotic factors are thing like feeding relationships. You don’t eat your brother, cat or dog, and they don’t eat you.

      One animal does not have a niche, it is a whole population that has a niche. Playing games and reading books does not make any difference to the number of brothers, cats and dogs you have.

  4. Ashley Bollinger says:

    My niches are
    1. Texting
    2. Hanging with Friends
    3. Being outside
    4. Watching tv
    5. Being on facebook
    6. Draw

    • This is not right. An ecological niche is the effect of a population of animals or plants on the environment and the other animals and plants in it. You don’t have a personal ecologicaL niche: as a human you contribute to the collective effect of us all.

      When you watch TV or use a computer you are using electricity; generating electricity may use up natural resources (coal or oil) and cause pollution. So you contribute to the depletion of resouces and you help pollute the environment.

      Being outside and hanging out with friends may be enjoyable activities, but you need to think about what effect you are having on the environment.

  5. sai yau says:

    so, what would the Ecological niche be for Dwarf Beans?
    i sort of get it,,,,,,,,but then not really,,, ! please explain! (:

    • It is just about the same as the oak tree but on a much smaller scale: they absorb sunlight and shade the ground, they absorb water and mineral salts from the soil, they can be eaten by animals and when they die and rot minerals are retuned to the soil. They will be eaten by different animals.

  6. Very nice! I finally understood what a Niche is, thank you soo much!
    My friend Pedrão, was saying that niches were a type of french food, but afterall he was wrong.
    Thank you!
    This has really helped me on my biology project.
    Cheers :)!

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