Introduction

Ecological niche is a term for the position of a species within an ecosystem, describing both the range of conditions necessary for persistence of the species, and its ecological role in the ecosystem. Ecological niche subsumes all of the interactions between a species and the biotic and abiotic environment, and thus represents a very basic and fundamental ecological concept. The tentative definition presented above indicates that the concept of niche has two sides which are not so tightly related: one concerns the effects environment has on a species, the other the effects a species has on the environment. In most of ecological thinking, however, both meanings are implicitly or explicitly mixed. The reason is that ecology is about interactions between organisms, and if persistence of a species is determined by the presence of other species (food sources, competitors, predators, etc.), all species are naturally both affected by environment, and at the same time affect the environment for other species.

If we want to treat both of these aspects of ecological niche within one framework, we can define it more formally as the part of ecological space (defined by all combinations of biotic and abiotic environmental conditions) where the species population can persist and thus utilize resources and impact on its environment. It is useful, however, to distinguish three main approaches to the niche. The first approach emphasizes environmental conditions necessary for a species presence and maintenance of its population, the second approach stresses the functional role of species within ecosystems, and the third one a dynamic position of species within a local community, shaped by species' biotic and abiotic requirements and by coexistence with other species.

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