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Habitats and Niches

Habitats include the physical and biological characteristics of the place where a plant, animal, fungus, or any living creature lives – including the nature of the soil, climate, the amount of the habitat and its configuration. The presence and numbers of such things as competitors, disease-causing organisms, predators, sources of food, water, and nest sites, and safe shelter are important to all life. The extent of their importance varies greatly from species to species and often between sexes and age groups of a species. A habitat can support – or prevent the presence of many species of living creatures.

A niche – the role of a species in its habitat -- is not just species-specific – but often also age and sex specific. Consider the physical and behavioral differences of men and women. Other creatures – such as the Red-cockaded Woodpecker -- also have differences in habitat needs related to sex and age groups, yet habitat use by a species is often generalized without considering such differences. In this week’s Wild Things I provide examples from the bird world. For many species of plants and animals, we simply don’t know if -- or how -- the species’ niche might be subdivided or how alteration of its habitat might influences its future.