Dictionary defines the term Niche as a comfortable or suitable position in life of a living being, or a role taken by a type of organism within its community. In other words, an ecological niche is the role and position of a species in its environment. For example how a species procures food and gets shelter, how it reproduces and survives there.
The niche of a species includes all the interactions it has with the abiotic and biotic factors of its environment. To occupy a unique niche in the environment is advantageous for the species because the competition for resources is reduced in it. It means a species has to encounter different types of competitions for resources and these competitions are reduced for the species in its niche.
Different components of the environment like plants, animals, microorganisms and all the non-living components like temperature, humidity, and air have to play different types of roles. The ecological niche is the roles of a species it plays in the environment.
Types of Ecological Niche
There are two types of Ecological Niche –First the Fundamental or the Hypothetical Niche and the second the Realized or the Actual Niche. The total range of physical, chemical and biological factors that can be utilized or survived by a species in case there are no other species affecting it is called as a Fundamental or Hypothetical niche. On the other hand the portion of a fundamental niche actually utilized by a species is called as Realized or Actual niche.
In fact, species can never live under “perfect” conditions. Hence, the total of the existing conditions acceptable in the environment is called as the Realized Niche. Realized niches are usually smaller than fundamental niches. It is because the competitive interactions exclude species from at least some conditions under which they would otherwise grow. Species may occupy different realized niches in various locations if some dangers, such as a certain predators are present there while it is not present in other areas.
Ecological Niche and Habitat
Environment Niche and Habitat are closely related terms but there is not a clear distinction between the two. A habitat denotes the physical place where an organism lives. A niche reflects behaviour of organism and any external variable like temperature or wind.
The habitat is focused more on the location or the place in the environment where the organisms live. The resources available to each species, whether physical or biological, are very important in this aspect.
The niche is more focused on the response of the organism to the limited resources of the environment and their competitors. On the other hand, the habitat is more focused on where the organisms live and how they are affected by their environment. In a short niche refers to how an organism makes a living in the ecological community it belongs to, while the habitat is a place or area where an organism lives and gives birth to individuals.
In other words niche is a survival strategy incorporating a place to live, food to eat and survive.
A habitat is all aspects of the area including both the biotic and abiotic components in which an organism lives. On the other hand an ecological niche includes all of the factors like food, abiotic conditions, and behaviour etc. that a species needs to survive, stay healthy, and reproduce.