The word biodiversity is a construct of ‘biological’ and ‘diversity’. It refers to the variety of life that is found throughout the earth! We have such a diversity on earth because of the ecological niche!

An ecological niche is the role in which a species plays in an ecosystem.

The ecological niche of a species determines how it survives,

Blue Tit, Meantán gorm, Parus caeruleus

gains nutrition and reproduces. Different species have different adaptations, therefore, do not directly compete with others for resources. It’s easier for a species to occupy a unique niche in order to avoid such competition. This helps species like the Blue Tit, who feeds on insects hiding under leaves, to co-exist with species like the Treecreeper, who feeds on insects under moss and bark on the trunks of trees.

Every species has a role to play in it’s environment. The Jay, a bird often found in Oak woodlands, stores cashes of acorns to eat during the winter. Sometimes Jays forget where they planted their bounty and the acorns grow into new trees! Sphagnum moss, a genus of dense bryophyte which can form large clumps and are often found in bogs, are particularly important in an Irish context. Sphagnum has many uses, it was used in the First World War to bandage wounds due to its antiseptic properties, it can hold massive amounts of water per gram of moss  and has the ability to acidify its surrounding!

These amazing mosses are the actual building blocks of our raised and blanket bogs in Ireland and help the bogs retain water, acidity and gives them the ability to lock away massive amounts of carbon in the form of peat!

Treecreeper, Snag, Certhia familiaris

Ecological niches have been discussed by scientists such as Charles Darwin, who described his encounters with the finches of the Galápagos  Islands.

For example, due to the absence of any other species of such bird when the finches arrived on the island, the finches began to diverge from the original species and adapt to new niches. Over time the finch’s beaks and body size changed in order to fit their new nutrition! Whilst others adapted to be longer and thiner for catching insects.


Written by Luke Myers