What Is a Habitat in Ecology?
In ecology, a habitat is the type of natural environment in which a particular species of organism lives containing certain plants and animals, each depending in some way on the habitat to provide food and shelter, protection, mates for reproduction. Some of the more common habitats are deserts, deciduous forests and lakes. Within the habitat, conditions may vary. For instance, the top of a rocky shore will be exposed more often to the air than the lower shore.
Therefore, some of the plants and animals found at the top of the shore will differ from those found at the lower shore, depending on their ability to cope with the differing conditions. Within a habitat are smaller units called microhabitats. The underneath of a stone is a typical microhabitat, containing minute fungi, bacteria, mites and other small creatures.
Habitats may change over time. Causes of change may include a violent event (such as the eruption of a volcano, an earthquake, a tsunami, a wildfire or a change in oceanic currents); or change may occur more gradually over millennia with alterations in the climate, as ice sheets and glaciers advance and retreat, and as different weather patterns bring changes of precipitation and solar radiation.
Other changes come as a direct result of human activities, such as deforestation, the plowing of ancient grasslands, the diversion and damming of rivers, the draining of marshland and the dredging of the seabed. The introduction of alien species can have a devastating effect on native wildlife, through increased predation, through competition for resources or through the introduction of pests and diseases to which the indigenous species have no immunity.