Most people want to feel like they belong and have an important role in society. This is also true in a biological aspect.

In this lesson, we will learn about ecological niches as well as the roles of organisms and the various aspects of their lives.

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What Is an Ecological Niche?

An ecological niche is the role and position a species has in its environment; how it meets its needs for food and shelter, how it survives, and how it reproduces. A species’ niche includes all of its interactions with the biotic and abiotic factors of its environment. Biotic factors are living things, while abiotic factors are nonliving things. It is advantageous for a species to occupy a unique niche in an ecosystem because it reduces the amount of competition for resources that species will encounter.

Worker ant carrying a leaf

Individuals’ Ecological Niches

Every living thing on Earth has a role to play in its environment. In fact, you are filling a niche right now as you read this lesson. Whether you are a student, have a full time job, or are a mother or father, these are parts of the niche you fill.

Your niche also includes where and how you obtain food and all of the things you do in order to survive.If you closely look at a typical habitat in the environment, you will see many organisms living and working together, fulfilling their ecological niches. For example, imagine you are walking through the forest where there are leaves scattered on the ground and an old rotting log sitting on the forest floor.

If you look closely, you could probably find earthworms just under the soil feeding on decaying organic matter. There could also be centipedes eating small beetles and other organisms as well as a colony of ants that work and feed on dead insects. You may even find a couple of millipedes strolling around feeding on decaying leaves.In this small section of the vast forest, all of these organisms are filling an individual ecological niche. To some degree, their niches may overlap, but if you look into all aspects of their lives, including where they live, how they survive, and how they reproduce, you will see that they are each truly individual niches. You could think of each ecological niche as parts of a puzzle that go together to make the environment successful.

There may be a variety of ecological niches in this rotting log.

Importance of Unique Niches

It is important to note that an organism has a greater chance for a successful life if their ecological niche is unique. Consider the mighty polar bears that inhabit arctic regions of the planet.

While most organisms, including humans, would find the idea of living an isolated life in the vast cold tundra very unappealing, it works quite well for polar bears. They fill a unique ecological niche. Due to the harsh environment, they face very little competition. They are able to hunt and fish in relative peace and are an important part of their ecosystem.

The polar bear has little competition in its environment.
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