Ecological niche: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In ecology, a niche (pronounced /ˈniːʃ/ or /ˈnɪtʃ/)[1] is a term describing the relational position of a species or population in its ecosystem to each other; e.g. a dolphin could potentially be in another ecological niche from one that travels in a different pod if the members of these pods utilize significantly different food resources and foraging methods.[1] A shorthand definition of niche is how an organism makes a living. The ecological niche describes how an organism or population responds to the distribution of resources and competitors (e.g., by growing when resources are abundant, and when predators, parasites and pathogens are scarce) and how it in turn alters those same factors (e.g., limiting access to resources by other organisms, acting as a food source for predators and a consumer of prey).[2]



The different dimensions, or plot axes, of a niche represent different biotic and abiotic variables. These factors may include descriptions of the organism's life history, habitat, trophic position (place in the food chain), and geographic range. According to the competitive exclusion principle, no two species can occupy the same niche in the same environment for a long time[3].

The word "niche" is derived from the Middle French word nicher, meaning to nest. The term was coined by the naturalist Joseph Grinnell in 1917, in his paper "The niche relationships of the California Thrasher."[4] However, it was not until 1927 that Charles Sutherland Elton, a British ecologist, gave the first working definition of the niche concept. He is credited with saying: "[W]hen an ecologist says 'there goes a badger,' he should include in his thoughts some definite idea of the animal's place in the community to which it belongs, just as if he had said, 'there goes the vicar.'"[5]

The niche concept was popularized by the zoologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson in 1958[6]. Hutchinson wanted to know why there are so many different types of organisms in any one habitat.

The full range of environmental conditions (biological and physical) under which an organism can exist describes its fundamental niche. As a result of pressure from, and interactions with, other organisms (e.g. superior competitors), species are usually forced to occupy a niche that is narrower than this, and to which they are mostly highly adapted. This is termed the realized niche. The ecological niche has also been termed by G.E. Hutchinson a "hypervolume." This term defines the multi-dimensional space of resources (e.g., light, nutrients, structure, etc.) available to (and specifically used by) organisms. The term adaptive zone was coined by the paleontologist, George Gaylord Simpson, and refers to a set of ecological niches that may be occupied by a group of species that exploit the same resources in a similar manner. (Simpson, 1944; After Root, 1967.)[citation needed]

It should be noted that Hutchinson's "niche" (a description of the ecological space occupied by a species) is subtly different from the "niche" as defined by Grinnell (an ecological role, that may or may not be actually filled by a species—see vacant niches).

Different species can hold similar niches and the same species may occupy different niches. The Australian grasslands species, though different from those of the Great Plains grasslands, occupy the same niche.[7]

Once a niche is left vacant, other organisms can fill that position. For example, the niche that was left vacant by the extinction of the tarpan has been filled by other animals (in particular a small horse breed, the konik). Also, when plants and animals are introduced into a new environment, they have the potential to occupy or invade the niche or niches of native organisms, often outcompeting the indigenous species. Introduction of non-indigenous species to non-native habitats by humans often results in biological pollution by the exotic or invasive species.

The mathematical representation of a species' fundamental niche in ecological space, and its subsequent projection back into geographic space, is the domain of niche modelling.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Definition of niche - Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary". Retrieved 2007-07-26. 
  2. ^ Lomolino, Mark V.; Brown, James W. (1998). Biogeography. Sunderland, Mass: Sinauer Associates. ISBN 0-87893-073-6. 
  3. ^ Hardin, G. (1960). The Competitive Exclusion Principle. Science 131, 1292-1297.
  4. ^ Grinnell, J. (1917). "The niche-relationships of the California Thrasher". Auk 34: 427–433. 
  5. ^ Elton, C.S. (2001). Animal Ecology. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226206394. 
  6. ^ Hutchinson, G.E. (1957). "Concluding remarks" (PDF). Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology 22 (2): 415–427. Retrieved 2007-07-24. 
  7. ^ Glossary for the Nature of Alberta

External links

Simple English

An ecological niche is the part of the environment into which a species fits, and to which it is adapted.

A shorthand definition of niche in biology is how an organism makes a living in a place. In general use 'niche' means a recess in a wall to hold a small statue, a nook or cranny.

The word niche was first used in biology by naturalist Joseph Grinnell in 1917.[1]

Scientists who study the interactions between animals and their environment are called ecologists, and their branch of science is called ecology. A niche is a term which describes a position or opportunity into which some organism fits well. Thus, an ecological niche is a place in nature that is filled by an animal or plant because it is well suited to do so.[2][3]

Introduced species, such as the Common Brushtail Possum, are often free of many of their normal parasites.


Once a niche is left vacant, other organisms may, or may not, fill that position.

Also, when plants and animals invade (or are introduced) into a new land, they sometimes take over the niches of native organisms. The introduction of non-native species to new territory often has consequences for the resident species.[4]

The Sparrow in North America

File:Passer domesticus April
A male House Sparrow

The House Sparrow, Passer domesticus, native to Europe and Asia, has been introduced to North and South America and Australia.

It was introduced deliberately to the U.S.A. in the late 19th century by Eugene Schieffelin. He wanted to introduce to America all the birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. Two of these species were great successes: Starlings and House Sparrows. He organized a society for the importation of foreign birds, incorporated in Albany.[5]


  1. Grinell J. 1917. The niche-relationships of the California Thrasher. Auk 34, 427–433
  2. Mayr, Ernst 2001. What evolution is. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London. p152
  3. Merrell, David J. 1981. Ecological genetics. U of Minnesota Press, 248-250. ISBN 978-0-8166-1019-8.
  4. Elton C.S. 1958. The ecology of invasions by animals and plants. Chapman & Hall, London.
  5. Tales of Birding: The most hated bird in America: [1]

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