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With a solid population perspective under your belt, you are officially ready to take ecology to the next level. Literally. In this section, we will explore community ecology, the study of how populations of different species interact. A community is a group of interacting populations of different species. As in population ecology, community ecologists are not just interested in the organisms themselves; they are also intensely interested in the interactions between organisms. Here, we will explore the various ways that populations of different species can interact and how these interactions contribute to the structure of communities.
In order to best understand the different ways that species can interact, you must first recognize that in a community, each species has its own niche. You might already be familiar with the word niche. We use it sometimes to describe the role a person plays in his or her environment, whether at home, school, work, or on a team. In community ecology, a niche is defined as the way an organism lives and the role it plays in the community.
A species’ niche is made of the resources it uses, including food and space, its life history characteristics, including its reproductive and survivorship strategies, and all other environmental factors it requires for growth, reproduction, and survival, like temperature and moisture. Interactions between species generally revolve around factors relating to the niche, like species competing for food or places to hide from predators. Niche, niche, niche.
The niche of a particular species, including its interactions with other species, can often constrain its geographic range. This affects giant pandas, who only eat bamboo.