Ecological niche concept characteristics and importance post briefly explains about ecological niche, components of niche, characteristics of niche, and importance of niche.
Certain environmental conditions are essential for a species to survive, function and reproduce. These environmental conditions include physical factors, chemical factors, biological factors etc. Ecological Niche includes the sum total of all the resources and physical conditions required by a species to maintain its existence and function is an ecosystem.
Ecological Niche Definition
“Ecological niche concept” is basically the ecological or functional role of a species in an ecosystem, especially with regards to food consumption. A niche can also be described as the interactions, a species has with its biotic and abiotic environment.
Types of Ecological Niches
Ecologist Charles Elton’s definition of niche focused on the role of a species, such as its trophic role. His tenets emphasized more on community similarity and less on competition.
In 1957, Zoologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson provided a sort of compromise of these trains of thought. Hutchinson described two forms of niche. The fundamental niche focused on the conditions in which a species could exist with no ecological interactions. The realized niche, in contrast, considered the population’s existence in the presence of interactions, or competition.
The adoption of the ecological niche concept has allowed ecologists to understand the roles of species in ecosystems.
Components of Ecological Niche
Habitat: Habitat refers to the place and the type of environment where an organism normally lives. A habitat supplies all the factors necessary for the existence of a species.
Food: food niche includes the food resources that the species obtains from its environment.
Environmental condition: Environmental conditions include physical and chemical factors such as temperature, soil, humidity etc.
Relationships: Relationships that includes the interaction of the species with other organisms in the ecosystem which includes competition, predation etc.
Characteristics of Ecological Niche
Niche refers to the way a species relates to or fits in with its environment. The niche may include descriptions of the organism’s life history, habitat, and its place in the food chain. Niche also includes all the interaction of a species with other members of its community including predation, competition etc.
Physical conditions in an area such as temperature, rainfall, soil, availability of food etc. influence and help mould Niche of an organism. As the physical and biological factors evolve in the community, “Niche” of a particular species also undergoes changes.
Species commonly do not exploit their entire niche due to the presence of other species. The potential niche that would prevail in the absence of competition and other factors that might constrain its acquisition and use of the resources is called as Fundamental Niche
As a result of competition for the resources from other members of the community, a species only occupies a part of its niche. The port that it utilizes is called their “Realized Niche”.
Fundamental niche is always greater than the realized niche. Niche overlap occurs when two organisms use the same resources or other environmental variables.
Every species has a unique niche. No two species can have exactly identical niches. If two species have identical niches, there will be competition for the available resources and the less well-adapted species will eventually be eliminated.
Importance of Ecological Niche
The niche is often proclaimed as one of the most important concepts in community ecology. Niche can help in identifying patterns of species diversity and composition in an ecosystem.
As niche provides valuable information about all the factors responsible for the existence of a species, it can play a vital role in the conservation of organisms. Due to unique niche possessed by different species, competition for resources can be avoided in a community. Niche helps maintain stable coexistence of different species in a community.
Segregation of different species in a community according to their niches results in full exploitation of all available resources. Segregation of species into niches also helps maintain an orderly and efficient functioning of the ecosystem.
Ecological Niche Example
Beavers (genus Castor) are nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodents. They are known for constructing dams, canals, and lodges. Because of this activity, the water flow in the river where they live could alter, affecting both biotic and abiotic features of their environment. Other species that live near the watershed could be affected by the niche of the beaver in shaping the ecological features of their environment.