Habitat

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This coral reef in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area provides rich habitats for marine life Rotjan - Enderbury Day 1 - 2nd half (62).JPG
This coral reef in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area provides rich habitats for marine life
Few creatures make the ice shelves of Antarctica their habitat, but water beneath the ice can provide rich habitats for multiple species Antarctic (js) 18.jpg
Few creatures make the ice shelves of Antarctica their habitat, but water beneath the ice can provide rich habitats for multiple species
Ibex in an alpine habitat Ibex in the French Vanoise National Park.JPG
Ibex in an alpine habitat

In ecology, the term habitat summarises the array of resources, physical and biotic factors that are present in an area, such as to support the survival and reproduction of a particular species. A species habitat can be seen as the physical manifestation of its ecological niche. Thus "habitat" is a species-specific term, fundamentally different from concepts such as environment or vegetation assemblages, for which the term "habitat-type" is more appropriate.[ citation needed ]

Contents

The physical factors may include (for example): soil, moisture, range of temperature, and light intensity. Biotic factors will include the availability of food and the presence or absence of predators. Every organism has certain habitat needs for the conditions in which it will thrive, but some are tolerant of wide variations while others are very specific in their requirements. A species habitat is not necessarily a geographical area, it can be the interior of a stem, a rotten log, a rock or a clump of moss; a parasitic organism has as its habitat the body of its host, part of the host's body (such as the digestive tract), or a single cell within the host's body. [2]

Geographic habitat types include polar, temperate, subtropical and tropical regions. The terrestrial vegetation type may be forest, steppe, grassland, semi-arid or desert. Fresh-water habitats include marshes, streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds; marine habitats include salt marshes, the coast, the intertidal zone, estuaries, reefs, bays, the open sea, the sea bed, deep water and submarine vents.

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.

Definition and etymology

The word "habitat" has been in use since about 1755 and derives from the Latin habitāre, to inhabit, from habēre, to have or to hold. Habitat can be defined as the natural environment of an organism, the type of place in which it is natural for it to live and grow. [3] [4] It is similar in meaning to a biotope; an area of uniform environmental conditions associated with a particular community of plants and animals. [5]

Environmental factors

The chief environmental factors affecting the distribution of living organisms are temperature, humidity, climate, soil and light intensity, and the presence or absence of all the requirements that the organism needs to sustain it. Generally speaking, animal communities are reliant on specific types of plant communities. [6]

Some plants and animals have habitat requirements which are met in a wide range of locations. The small white butterfly Pieris rapae for example is found on all the continents of the world apart from Antarctica. Its larvae feed on a wide range of Brassicas and various other plant species, and it thrives in any open location with diverse plant associations. [7] The large blue butterfly Phengaris arion is much more specific in its requirements; it is found only in chalk grassland areas, its larvae feed on Thymus species and because of complex lifecycle requirements it inhabits only areas in which Myrmica ants live. [8]

Disturbance is important in the creation of biodiverse habitats. In the absence of disturbance, a climax vegetation cover develops that prevents the establishment of other species. Wildflower meadows are sometimes created by conservationists but most of the flowering plants used are either annuals or biennials and disappear after a few years in the absence of patches of bare ground on which their seedlings can grow. [9] Lightning strikes and toppled trees in tropical forests allow species richness to be maintained as pioneering species move in to fill the gaps created. [10] Similarly coastal habitats can become dominated by kelp until the seabed is disturbed by a storm and the algae swept away, or shifting sediment exposes new areas for colonisation. Another cause of disturbance is when an area may be overwhelmed by an invasive introduced species which is not kept under control by natural enemies in its new habitat. [11]

Types

Rich rainforest habitat in Dominica Epiphytes (Dominica).jpg
Rich rainforest habitat in Dominica

Terrestrial habitat-types include forests, grasslands, wetlands and deserts. Within these broad biomes are more specific habitats with varying climate types, temperature regimes, soils, altitudes and vegetation types. Many of these habitats grade into each other and each one has its own typical communities of plants and animals. A habitat-type may suit a particular species well, but its presence or absence at any particular location depends to some extent on chance, on its dispersal abilities and its efficiency as a coloniser. [12]

Wetland habitats in Borneo Danau Sentarum 2006.jpg
Wetland habitats in Borneo

Freshwater habitats include rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, marshes and bogs. [13] Although some organisms are found across most of these habitats, the majority have more specific requirements. The water velocity, its temperature and oxygen saturation are important factors, but in river systems, there are fast and slow sections, pools, bayous and backwaters which provide a range of habitats. Similarly, aquatic plants can be floating, semi-submerged, submerged or grow in permanently or temporarily saturated soils besides bodies of water. Marginal plants provide important habitat for both invertebrates and vertebrates, and submerged plants provide oxygenation of the water, absorb nutrients and play a part in the reduction of pollution. [14]

Marine habitats include brackish water, estuaries, bays, the open sea, the intertidal zone, the sea bed, reefs and deep / shallow water zones. [13] Further variations include rock pools, sand banks, mudflats, brackish lagoons, sandy and pebbly beaches, and seagrass beds, all supporting their own flora and fauna. The benthic zone or seabed provides a home for both static organisms, anchored to the substrate, and for a large range of organisms crawling on or burrowing into the surface. Some creatures float among the waves on the surface of the water, or raft on floating debris, others swim at a range of depths, including organisms in the demersal zone close to the seabed, and myriads of organisms drift with the currents and form the plankton. [15]

Desert scene in Egypt Marsa Alam R18.jpg
Desert scene in Egypt

A desert is not the kind of habitat that favours the presence of amphibians, with their requirement for water to keep their skins moist and for the development of their young. Nevertheless, some frogs live in deserts, creating moist habitats underground and hibernating while conditions are adverse. Couch's spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus couchii) emerges from its burrow when a downpour occurs and lays its eggs in the transient pools that form; the tadpoles develop with great rapidity, sometimes in as little as nine days, undergo metamorphosis, and feed voraciously before digging a burrow of their own. [16]

Other organisms cope with the drying up of their aqueous habitat in other ways. Vernal pools are ephemeral ponds that form in the rainy season and dry up afterwards. They have their specially-adapted characteristic flora, mainly consisting of annuals, the seeds of which survive the drought, but also some uniquely adapted perennials. [17] Animals adapted to these extreme habitats also exist; fairy shrimps can lay "winter eggs" which are resistant to desiccation, sometimes being blown about with the dust, ending up in new depressions in the ground. These can survive in a dormant state for as long as fifteen years. [18] Some killifish behave in a similar way; their eggs hatch and the juvenile fish grow with great rapidity when the conditions are right, but the whole population of fish may end up as eggs in diapause in the dried up mud that was once a pond. [19]

Many animals and plants have taken up residence in urban environments. They tend to be adaptable generalists and use the town's features to make their homes. Rats and mice have followed man around the globe, pigeons, peregrines, sparrows, swallows and house martins use the buildings for nesting, bats use roof space for roosting, foxes visit the garbage bins and squirrels, coyotes, raccoons and skunks roam the streets. About 2,000 coyotes are thought to live in and around Chicago. [20] A survey of dwelling houses in northern European cities in the twentieth century found about 175 species of invertebrate inside them, including 53 species of beetle, 21 flies, 13 butterflies and moths, 13 mites, 9 lice, 7 bees, 5 wasps, 5 cockroaches, 5 spiders, 4 ants and a number of other groups. [21] In warmer climates, termites are serious pests in the urban habitat; 183 species are known to affect buildings and 83 species cause serious structural damage. [22]

Microhabitats

A microhabitat is the small-scale physical requirements of a particular organism or population. Every habitat includes large numbers of microhabitats with subtly different exposure to light, humidity, temperature, air movement, and other factors. The lichens that grow on the north face of a boulder are different from those that grow on the south face, from those on the level top, and those that grow on the ground nearby; the lichens growing in the grooves and on the raised surfaces are different from those growing on the veins of quartz. Lurking among these miniature "forests" are the microfauna, species of invertebrate, each with its own specific habitat requirements. [23]

There are numerous different microhabitats in a wood; coniferous forest, broad-leafed forest, open woodland, scattered trees, woodland verges, clearings, and glades; tree trunk, branch, twig, bud, leaf, flower, and fruit; rough bark, smooth bark, damaged bark, rotten wood, hollow, groove, and hole; canopy, shrub layer, plant layer, leaf litter, and soil; buttress root, stump, fallen log, stem base, grass tussock, fungus, fern, and moss. [24] The greater the structural diversity in the wood, the greater the number of microhabitats that will be present. A range of tree species with individual specimens of varying sizes and ages, and a range of features such as streams, level areas, slopes, tracks, clearings, and felled areas will provide suitable conditions for an enormous number of biodiverse plants and animals. For example, in Britain it has been estimated that various types of rotting wood are home to over 1700 species of invertebrate. [24]

For a parasitic organism, its habitat is the particular part of the outside or inside of its host on or in which it is adapted to live. The life cycle of some parasites involves several different host species, as well as free-living life stages, sometimes within vastly different microhabitats. [25] One such organism is the trematode (flatworm) Microphallus turgidus , present in brackish water marshes in the southeastern United States. Its first intermediate host is a snail and the second, a glass shrimp. The final host is the waterfowl or mammal that consumes the shrimp. [26]

Extreme habitats

An Antarctic rock split apart to show endolithic lifeforms showing as a green layer a few millimeters thick Cryptoendolith.jpg
An Antarctic rock split apart to show endolithic lifeforms showing as a green layer a few millimeters thick

Although the vast majority of life on Earth lives in mesophyllic (moderate) environments, a few organisms, most of them microbes, have managed to colonise extreme environments that are unsuitable for more complex life forms. There are bacteria, for example, living in Lake Whillans, half a mile below the ice of Antarctica; in the absence of sunlight, they must rely on organic material from elsewhere, perhaps decaying matter from glacier melt water or minerals from the underlying rock. [27] Other bacteria can be found in abundance in the Mariana Trench, the deepest place in the ocean and on Earth; marine snow drifts down from the surface layers of the sea and accumulates in this undersea valley, providing nourishment for an extensive community of bacteria. [28]

Other microbes live in habitats lacking in oxygen, and are dependent on chemical reactions other than photosynthesis. Boreholes drilled 300 m (1,000 ft) into the rocky seabed have found microbial communities apparently based on the products of reactions between water and the constituents of rocks. These communities have not been studied much, but may be an important part of the global carbon cycle. [29] Rock in mines two miles deep also harbour microbes; these live on minute traces of hydrogen produced in slow oxidizing reactions inside the rock. These metabolic reactions allow life to exist in places with no oxygen or light, an environment that had previously been thought to be devoid of life. [30] [31]

The intertidal zone and the photic zone in the oceans are relatively familiar habitats. However the vast bulk of the ocean is inhospitable to air-breathing humans, with scuba divers limited to the upper 50 m (160 ft) or so. [32] The lower limit for photosynthesis is 100 to 200 m (330 to 660 ft) and below that depth the prevailing conditions include total darkness, high pressure, little oxygen (in some places), scarce food resources and extreme cold. This habitat is very challenging to research, and as well as being little-studied, it is vast, with 79% of the Earth's biosphere being at depths greater than 1,000 m (3,300 ft). [33] With no plant life, the animals in this zone are either detritivores, reliant on food drifting down from surface layers, or they are predators, feeding on each other. Some organisms are pelagic, swimming or drifting in mid-ocean, while others are benthic, living on or near the seabed. Their growth rates and metabolisms tend to be slow, their eyes may be very large to detect what little illumination there is, or they may be blind and rely on other sensory inputs. A number of deep sea creatures are bioluminescent; this serves a variety of functions including predation, protection and social recognition. [33] In general, the bodies of animals living at great depths are adapted to high pressure environments by having pressure-resistant biomolecules and small organic molecules present in their cells known as piezolytes, which give the proteins the flexibility they need. There are also unsaturated fats in their membranes which prevent them from solidifying at low temperatures. [34]

Dense mass of white crabs at a hydrothermal vent, with stalked barnacles on right Dense mass of anomuran crab Kiwa around deep-sea hydrothermal vent.jpg
Dense mass of white crabs at a hydrothermal vent, with stalked barnacles on right

Hydrothermal vents were first discovered in the ocean depths in 1977. [35] They result from seawater becoming heated after seeping through cracks to places where hot magma is close to the seabed. The under-water hot springs may gush forth at temperatures of over 340 °C (640 °F) and support unique communities of organisms in their immediate vicinity. [35] The basis for this teeming life is chemosynthesis, a process by which microbes convert such substances as hydrogen sulfide or ammonia into organic molecules. [36] These bacteria and Archaea are the primary producers in these ecosystems and support a diverse array of life. About 350 species of organism, dominated by molluscs, polychaete worms and crustaceans, had been discovered around hydrothermal vents by the end of the twentieth century, most of them being new to science and endemic to these habitats. [37]

Besides providing locomotion opportunities for winged animals and a conduit for the dispersal of pollen grains, spores and seeds, the atmosphere can be considered to be a habitat-type in its own right. There are metabolically active microbes present that actively reproduce and spend their whole existence airborne, with hundreds of thousands of individual organisms estimated to be present in a cubic meter of air. The airborne microbial community may be as diverse as that found in soil or other terrestrial environments, however these organisms are not evenly distributed, their densities varying spatially with altitude and environmental conditions. Aerobiology has not been studied much, but there is evidence of nitrogen fixation in clouds, and less clear evidence of carbon cycling, both facilitated by microbial activity. [38]

There are other examples of extreme habitats where specially adapted lifeforms exist; tar pits teeming with microbial life; [39] naturally occurring crude oil pools inhabited by the larvae of the petroleum fly; [40] hot springs where the temperature may be as high as 71 °C (160 °F) and cyanobacteria create microbial mats; [41] cold seeps where the methane and hydrogen sulfide issue from the ocean floor and support microbes and higher animals such as mussels which form symbiotic associations with these anaerobic organisms; [42] salt pans harbour salt-tolerant bacteria and archaea and also fungi such as the black yeast Hortaea werneckii and basidomycete Wallemia ichthyophaga ; [43] [44] ice sheets in Antarctica which support fungi Thelebolus spp., [43] glacial ice with a variety of bacteria and fungi; [45] and snowfields on which algae grow. [46]

Habitat change

Twenty five years after the devastating eruption at Mount St. Helens, United States, pioneer species have moved in. Mt st helens Johnston ridge 25 years later.jpg
Twenty five years after the devastating eruption at Mount St. Helens, United States, pioneer species have moved in.

Whether from natural processes or the activities of man, landscapes and their associated habitats change over time. There are the slow geomorphological changes associated with the geologic processes that cause tectonic uplift and subsidence, and the more rapid changes associated with earthquakes, landslides, storms, flooding, wildfires, coastal erosion, deforestation and changes in land use. [47] Then there are the changes in habitats brought on by alterations in farming practices, tourism, pollution, fragmentation and climate change. [48]

Loss of habitat is the single greatest threat to any species. If an island on which an endemic organism lives becomes uninhabitable for some reason, the species will become extinct. Any type of habitat surrounded by a different habitat is in a similar situation to an island. If a forest is divided into parts by logging, with strips of cleared land separating woodland blocks, and the distances between the remaining fragments exceeds the distance an individual animal is able to travel, that species becomes especially vulnerable. Small populations generally lack genetic diversity and may be threatened by increased predation, increased competition, disease and unexpected catastrophe. [48] At the edge of each forest fragment, increased light encourages secondary growth of fast-growing species and old growth trees are more vulnerable to logging as access is improved. The birds that nest in their crevices, the epiphytes that hang from their branches and the invertebrates in the leaf litter are all adversely affected and biodiversity is reduced. [48] Habitat fragmentation can be ameliorated to some extent by the provision of wildlife corridors connecting the fragments. These can be a river, ditch, strip of trees, hedgerow or even an underpass to a highway. Without the corridors, seeds cannot disperse and animals, especially small ones, cannot travel through the hostile territory, putting populations at greater risk of local extinction. [49]

Habitat disturbance can have long-lasting effects on the environment. Bromus tectorum is a vigorous grass from Europe which has been introduced to the United States where it has become invasive. It is highly adapted to fire, producing large amounts of flammable detritus and increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires. In areas where it has become established, it has altered the local fire regimen to such an extant that native plants cannot survive the frequent fires, allowing it to become even more dominant. [50] A marine example is when sea urchin populations "explode" in coastal waters and destroy all the macroalgae present. What was previously a kelp forest becomes an urchin barren that may last for years and this can have a profound effect on the food chain. Removal of the sea urchins, by disease for example, can result in the seaweed returning, with an over-abundance of fast-growing kelp. [51]

Fragmentation

Fragmentation and destruction of Great Ape habitat in Central Africa, from the GLOBIO and GRASP projects (2002). Areas shown in black and red delineate areas of severe and moderate habitat loss, respectively. Grasp africa.jpg
Fragmentation and destruction of Great Ape habitat in Central Africa, from the GLOBIO and GRASP projects (2002). Areas shown in black and red delineate areas of severe and moderate habitat loss, respectively.

Habitat fragmentation describes the emergence of discontinuities (fragmentation) in an organism's preferred environment (habitat), causing population fragmentation and ecosystem decay. Causes of habitat fragmentation include geological processes that slowly alter the layout of the physical environment [52] (suspected of being one of the major causes of speciation [52] ), and human activity such as land conversion, which can alter the environment much faster and causes the extinction of many species. More specifically, habitat fragmentation is a process by which large and contiguous habitats get divided into smaller, isolated patches of habitats. [53] [54]

Deforestation in Europe, 2020. France is the most deforested country in Europe, with only 15% of the native vegetation remaining. Deforestation central Europe - Rodungen Mitteleuropa.jpg
Deforestation in Europe, 2020. France is the most deforested country in Europe, with only 15% of the native vegetation remaining.
Deforestation in Bolivia, 2016. The country don't have strong laws against the deforestation. Sugarcane Deforestation, Bolivia, 2016-06-15 by Planet Labs.jpg
Deforestation in Bolivia, 2016. The country don't have strong laws against the deforestation.

Destruction

Habitat destruction (also termed habitat loss and habitat reduction) is the process by which a natural habitat becomes incapable of supporting its native species. The organisms that previously inhabited the site are displaced or dead, thereby reducing biodiversity and species abundance. [55] [56] Habitat destruction is the leading cause of biodiversity loss. [57]

Activities such as harvesting natural resources, industrial production and urbanization are human contributions to habitat destruction. Pressure from agriculture is the principal human cause. Some others include mining, logging, trawling, and urban sprawl. Habitat destruction is currently considered the primary cause of species extinction worldwide. [58] Environmental factors can contribute to habitat destruction more indirectly. Geological processes, climate change, [56] introduction of invasive species, ecosystem nutrient depletion, water and noise pollution are some examples. Loss of habitat can be preceded by an initial habitat fragmentation.

Attempts to address habitat destruction are in international policy commitments embodied by Sustainable Development Goal 15 "Life on Land" and Sustainable Development Goal 14 "Life Below Water". However, the United Nations Environment Programme report on "Making Peace with Nature" released in 2021 found that most of these efforts had failed to meet their internationally agree upon goals. [59]

Habitat protection

The protection of habitats is a necessary step in the maintenance of biodiversity because if habitat destruction occurs, the animals and plants reliant on that habitat suffer. Many countries have enacted legislation to protect their wildlife. This may take the form of the setting up of national parks, forest reserves and wildlife reserves, or it may restrict the activities of humans with the objective of benefiting wildlife. The laws may be designed to protect a particular species or group of species, or the legislation may prohibit such activities as the collecting of bird eggs, the hunting of animals or the removal of plants. A general law on the protection of habitats may be more difficult to implement than a site specific requirement. A concept introduced in the United States in 1973 involves protecting the critical habitat of endangered species, and a similar concept has been incorporated into some Australian legislation. [60]

International treaties may be necessary for such objectives as the setting up of marine reserves. Another international agreement, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, protects animals that migrate across the globe and need protection in more than one country. [61] Even where legislation protects the environment, a lack of enforcement often prevents effective protection. However, the protection of habitats needs to take into account the needs of the local residents for food, fuel and other resources. Faced with hunger and destitution, a farmer is likely to plough up a level patch of ground despite it being the last suitable habitat for an endangered species such as the San Quintin kangaroo rat, and even kill the animal as a pest. [62] In the interests of ecotourism it is desirable that local communities are educated on the uniqueness of their flora and fauna. [63]

Monotypic habitat

A monotypic habitat-type is a concept sometimes used in conservation biology, in which a single species of animal or plant is the only species of its type to be found in a specific habitat and forms a monoculture. Even though it might seem such a habitat-type is impoverished in biodiversity as compared with polytypic habitats, this is not necessarily the case. Monocultures of the exotic plant Hydrilla support a similarly rich fauna of invertebrates as a more varied habitat. [64] The monotypic habitat occurs in both botanical and zoological contexts. Some invasive species may create monocultural stands that prevent other species from growing there. A dominant colonization can occur from retardant chemicals exuded, nutrient monopolization, or from lack of natural controls such as herbivores or climate, that keep them in balance with their native habitats. The yellow starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis, is a botanical monotypic habitat example of this, currently dominating over 15,000,000 acres (61,000 km2) in California alone. [65] The non-native freshwater zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, that colonizes areas of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed, is a zoological monotypic habitat example; the predators or parasites that control it in its home-range in Russia are absent. [66]

See also

Notes and references

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Related Research Articles

Ecology Scientific study of the relationships between living organisms and their environment

Ecology is the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment, . Ecology considers organisms at the individual, population, community, ecosystems, and biosphere level. Ecology overlaps with the closely related sciences of biogeography, evolutionary biology, genetics, ethology and natural history. Ecology is a branch of knowledge, and it is not synonymous with environmentalism.

Ecosystem Community of living organisms together with the nonliving components of their environment

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system. These biotic and abiotic components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Energy enters the system through photosynthesis and is incorporated into plant tissue. By feeding on plants and on one another, animals play an important role in the movement of matter and energy through the system. They also influence the quantity of plant and microbial biomass present. By breaking down dead organic matter, decomposers release carbon back to the atmosphere and facilitate nutrient cycling by converting nutrients stored in dead biomass back to a form that can be readily used by plants and other microbes.

Marine biology The scientific study of organisms that live in the ocean

Marine biology is the scientific study of the biology of marine life, organisms in the sea. Given that in biology many phyla, families and genera have some species that live in the sea and others that live on land, marine biology classifies species based on the environment rather than on taxonomy.

Plankton Organisms that are in the water column and are incapable of swimming against a current

Plankton are the diverse collection of organisms found in water that are unable to propel themselves against a current. The individual organisms constituting plankton are called plankters. In the ocean, they provide a crucial source of food to many small and large aquatic organisms, such as bivalves, fish and whales.

Biodiversity Variety and variability of life forms

Biodiversity is the biological variety and variability of life on Earth. Biodiversity is a measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Terrestrial biodiversity is usually greater near the equator, which is the result of the warm climate and high primary productivity. Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on Earth, and is richer in the tropics. These tropical forest ecosystems cover less than ten percent of earth's surface, and contain about ninety percent of the world's species. Marine biodiversity is usually higher along coasts in the Western Pacific, where sea surface temperature is highest, and in the mid-latitudinal band in all oceans. There are latitudinal gradients in species diversity. Biodiversity generally tends to cluster in hotspots, and has been increasing through time, but will be likely to slow in the future as a primary result of deforestation.

Ecological niche The fit of a species living under specific environmental conditions.

In ecology, a niche is the match of a species to a specific environmental condition. It describes how an organism or population responds to the distribution of resources and competitors and how it in turn alters those same factors. "The type and number of variables comprising the dimensions of an environmental niche vary from one species to another [and] the relative importance of particular environmental variables for a species may vary according to the geographic and biotic contexts".

This glossary of ecology is a list of definitions of terms and concepts in ecology and related fields. For more specific definitions from other glossaries related to ecology, see Glossary of biology, Glossary of evolutionary biology, and Glossary of environmental science.

The pelagic zone consists of the water column of the open ocean, and can be further divided into regions by depth, as illustrated on the right. The word "pelagic" is derived from Ancient Greek πέλαγος (pélagos) 'open sea'. The pelagic zone can be thought of in terms of an imaginary cylinder or water column that goes from the surface of the sea almost to the bottom. Conditions in the water column change with depth: the pressure increases; the temperature and amount of light decreases; the salinity and amount of dissolved oxygen, as well as micronutrients such as iron, magnesium and calcium, all change.

Biological dispersal

Biological dispersal refers to both the movement of individuals from their birth site to their breeding site, as well as the movement from one breeding site to another . Dispersal is also used to describe the movement of propagules such as seeds and spores. Technically, dispersal is defined as any movement that has the potential to lead to gene flow. The act of dispersal involves three phases: departure, transfer, settlement and there are different fitness costs and benefits associated with each of these phases. Through simply moving from one habitat patch to another, the dispersal of an individual has consequences not only for individual fitness, but also for population dynamics, population genetics, and species distribution. Understanding dispersal and the consequences both for evolutionary strategies at a species level, and for processes at an ecosystem level, requires understanding on the type of dispersal, the dispersal range of a given species, and the dispersal mechanisms involved.

Ecosystem engineer ecological niche

An ecosystem engineer is any animal that creates, significantly modifies, maintains or destroys a habitat. These organisms can have a large impact on species richness and landscape-level heterogeneity of an area. As a result, ecosystem engineers are important for maintaining the health and stability of the environment they are living in. Since all organisms impact the environment they live in in one way or another, it has been proposed that the term "ecosystem engineers" be used only for keystone species whose behavior very strongly affects other organisms.

Habitat fragmentation Discontinuities in an organisms environment causing population fragmentation and ecosystem decay

Habitat fragmentation describes the emergence of discontinuities (fragmentation) in an organism's preferred environment (habitat), causing population fragmentation and ecosystem decay. Causes of habitat fragmentation include geological processes that slowly alter the layout of the physical environment, and human activity such as land conversion, which can alter the environment much faster and causes the extinction of many species. More specifically, habitat fragmentation is a process by which large and contiguous habitats get divided into smaller, isolated patches of habitats.

Abiotic component

In biology and ecology, abiotic components or abiotic factors are non-living chemical and physical parts of the environment that affect living organisms and the functioning of ecosystems. Abiotic factors and the phenomena associated with them underpin biology as a whole. They effect a plethora of species, in all forms of environmental conditions such as marine or land animals. We humans can make or change abiotic factors in a species' environment. For instance, fertilisers can effect a snail's habitat, or the greenhouse gases which humans utilise can change marine pH levels.

Habitat destruction is the process by which a natural habitat becomes incapable of supporting its native species. The organisms that previously inhabited the site are displaced or dead, thereby reducing biodiversity and species abundance. Habitat destruction is the leading cause of biodiversity loss.

Aquatic biomonitoring

Aquatic biomonitoring is the science of inferring the ecological condition of rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands by examining the organisms that live there. While aquatic biomonitoring is the most common form of biomonitoring, any ecosystem can be studied in this manner.

River ecosystem

River ecosystems are flowing waters that drain the landscape, and include the biotic (living) interactions amongst plants, animals and micro-organisms, as well as abiotic (nonliving) physical and chemical interactions of its many parts. River ecosystems are part of larger watershed networks or catchments, where smaller headwater streams drain into mid-size streams, which progressively drain into larger river networks.

Landscape connectivity in ecology is, broadly, "the degree to which the landscape facilitates or impedes movement among resource patches". Alternatively, connectivity may be a continuous property of the landscape and independent of patches and paths. Connectivity includes both structural connectivity and functional connectivity. Functional connectivity includes actual connectivity and potential connectivity in which movement paths are estimated using the life-history data. The degree to which a landscape is connected determines the amount of dispersal there is among patches, which influences gene flow, local adaptation, extinction risk, colonization probability, and the potential for organisms to move as they cope with climate change.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to ecology:

Dispersal vector

A dispersal vector is an agent of biological dispersal that moves a dispersal unit, or organism, away from its birth population to another location or population in which the individual will reproduce. These dispersal units can range from pollen to seeds to fungi to entire organisms.

In ecology, species homogeneity is a lack of biodiversity. Species richness is the fundamental unit in which to assess the homogeneity of an environment. Therefore, any reduction in species richness, especially endemic species, could be argued as advocating the production of a homogenous environment.

Urban evolution is the adaptation of organisms to heavily populated urban areas. Anthropogenic environmental and geographical changes brought to habitats when urbanization takes place are known to have a significant evolutionary impact on organisms inhabiting these city areas.