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Ecological niche

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An ecological niche is the part of the environment into which a species fits, and to which it is adapted.[1] A shorthand definition of niche in biology is how an organism makes a living in a place. A niche can be occupied by different species, all of which 'earn their living' in roughly the same way. Thus the 'bird of prey eating small mammals' niche would in grasslands include the kestrel, but in an oak wood it would by filled by the tawny owl.[2]

The word niche was first used in biology by naturalist Joseph Grinnell in 1917.[3]

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.[4][5]

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


Once a niche is left open, 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.[6]

The Sparrow in North America

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.[7]


  1. In general use 'niche' means a recess in a wall to hold a small statue, a nook or cranny.
  2. McFarland, David 1981. The Oxford companion to animal behaviour. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 411
  3. Grinell J. 1917. The niche-relationships of the California Thrasher. Auk 34, 427–433
  4. Mayr, Ernst 2001. What evolution is. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London. p152
  5. Merrell, David J. 1981. Ecological genetics. U of Minnesota Press, 248-250. ISBN 978-0-8166-1019-8.
  6. Elton C.S. 1958. The ecology of invasions by animals and plants. Chapman & Hall, London.
  7. Tales of Birding: The most hated bird in America: [1]