When talking about animal species and the place where they live, the terms habitat and ecological niche as synonyms, but the truth is that they are not.
- Habitat. It is the physical place in which an organism lives, since its physical conditions are conducive to its growth, development and reproduction. It is the area occupied by one or more species. And it can be as wide as a forest or a specific type of meadow, or as small as the stones on the seashore.
- Ecological niche. It refers to the positioning of a specific species of organisms within a specific habitat and in relation to environmental conditions or with the other species that coexist with them. In other words, the ecological niche is the specific relationship that a species of animals establishes with the elements of its ecosystem.
This means that the same habitat can contain different ecological niches. For example, in a forest (habitat) a species of birds and another of deer coexist, despite the fact that each has its ecological niche: the treetops and the understory.
Types of ecological niche
Commonly the ecological niche is classified into two types, namely:
- Fundamental or potential. It contemplates the conditions in which a species is able to subsist, without taking into account any other species.
- Cash or real. It considers the subsistence needs of the species in the presence of other animal species with which it interacts directly or indirectly.
Examples of habitat and ecological niche
- Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus)
- Habitat: Humid tropical forests of South America, especially the Amazon.
- Ecological niche: Omnivorous predator, usually lodged in the soils and flooded areas, since it can be a good swimmer. It competes with crocodiles and alligators in the Venezuelan flooded plains, in the predation of the common capybara.
- Bactrian camelCamellus bactrianus)
- Habitat: It inhabits the Asian steppes of southern Mongolia, the Chinese region of Xiang and is even found in Iran. These are arid areas with high summer temperatures (60 ° C) and low winter temperatures (below 0 ° C).
- Ecological niche: Its enormous strength and resistance to the sun, cold and hunger have led to its domestication, which is why Asian populations currently take advantage of its milk, its meat and use it as a beast of burden. Their diet based on herbs and roots, as well as the absence of predators allows them to group in groups of up to 30 specimens.
- European robin (Erithacus rubecula)
- Habitat: It usually abounds in spruce forests, parks or gardens, since it is a very sociable bird. It is widely distributed in Europe, Asia, and North Africa.
- Ecological niche: Its wide diet, which ranges from small invertebrates to fruits, berries and seeds, allows it to adapt to human environments with ease, being able to even eat seeds from bird feeders, but it is usually always at ground level, hunting for its favorite prey.
- Earthworm (Lumbricus terresres)
- Habitat: Inside the earth.
- Ecological niche: Large decomposers of organic matter, they feed voraciously and substantially improve the quality of the soils through their tunnels and excavations. They are also the sustenance of numerous animal species, from birds and mammals to reptiles.
- Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
- Habitat: The cold-water oceans of the Arctic, Indian and Pacific.
- Ecological niche: Being a baleen whale, it feeds on tiny crustaceans (krill) that it filters from the water as it passes. Given their large size, they do not have known predators (except man, who has led them to near extinction) and they roam alone or in pairs, although groups of up to six individuals have been seen.
- Krill (Meganyctiphanes norvegica)
- Habitat: The surrounding oceans of the Antarctic Continent.
- Ecological niche: Their diet of phytoplankton (algae) and tiny size allows them to proliferate in schools of kilometers long and thousands of individuals for each cubic meter of water. They constitute the food base of numerous trophic chains, be it fish, larger crustaceans, birds and especially whales.
- Panda bear (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
- Habitat: Mountainous regions of central China at 3,500 meters above sea level.
- Ecological niche: Docile and good climber species whose diet is 99% bamboo, although it can feed on fish, small insects or small mammals as well. Its dense coat allows it to withstand the low temperatures of its habitat, in which it does not have active predators or too much competition.
- Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes fosteri)
- Habitat: Waters and lands of Antarctica
- Ecological niche: Its body adapted to the marine environment is ideal for hunting fish, small crustaceans and squid in the cold waters of the pole, which is why it spends most of its life in the water, acting as a predator and eventual prey for larger animals. , like killer whales.
- Andean condor (Vultur gryphus)
- Habitat: Skies and surface of the Andes Mountains in South America.
- Ecological niche: Carrion bird of particular habits, capable of devouring about 5 kg of dead meat a day while fasting for up to 5 weeks, its diet usually facilitates the decomposition of dead animal matter, since its powerful beaks tear leather and open tissue, making way for other scavenger species and microorganisms.
- Llama (lama glama)
- Habitat: Endemic species of the Andean highlands, fruit of the domestication of the guanaco.
- Ecological niche: It feeds on grasses and herbs, but like all camelids it supports hunger and thirst very well. It is used as a beast of burden, a source of milk, meat and wool to manufacture cloth. It is considered the first American domestic animal.