|One of our pieces on|
|The science of life|
In ecology, a niche (pronounced "nich", "nish" or "neesh") is whatever role an organism plays in its habitat. The idea is best explained through examples, so here we go.
In most parts of the world, the niche of small, skittish, ground-dwelling vegetarian is played by a placental mammal, like a chipmunk or mouse. However, in Australia, that niche is taken up by a small, ground dwelling marsupial. And in New Zealand, that niche is filled by a flightless, ground-adapted bird, the kiwi.
Interestingly, in New Zealand, most of the niches normally occupied by mammals are filled by birds. The only native mammals in New Zealand are bats (which conveniently take up the night-hunting flying insectivore niche). It's a pretty interesting place.