Habitat – UPSC Environment Notes

Habitat Definition: Habitat refers to the physical environment that serves as the address for an organism.

  • Environmental Composition: The environment consists of multiple habitats.
  • Shared Habitats: A single habitat can be used by multiple organisms with similar requirements.
  • Example: An example is an aquatic habitat, supporting various species like fish, frog, crab, phytoplankton, and others.
  • Common ‘Address’: Species sharing a habitat have the same ‘address’; for instance, forests, rivers, etc.

Difference between Habitat and Environment

  • Life in Habitat: A habitat always contains life, distinguishing it from the environment.
  • Habitat vs. Environment: While all habitats are environments, not all environments serve as habitats.
  • Species Preference: A habitat is always a preference for a specific species.
  • Multiple Species: An environment can be preferred by many species, potentially evolving into multiple habitats.
  • Governance of Properties: The environment typically dictates the characteristics of a habitat, not the other way around.

Broad Classification of Habitat

  • Terrestrial: Related to land. E.g., forests, grasslands, deserts, coastal, and mountain regions.
  • Aquatic: Related to water. E.g., Lakes, rivers, and oceans.

Components of Habitat

  • Biotic (living): Plants, animals, and microorganisms.
  • Abiotic (Non-living): Rocks, soil, air, water, light, and temperature.
  • The presence of specific features and habits, due to which an organism is able to live in a particular habitat, is called Adaptation. Those organisms which cannot adapt to changes die, and only the adapted ones survive, i.e., “Survival of the fittest.“

Some Terrestrial Habitats and Adaptations

  • Deserts:
    • Camels:
      • Long legs keep the body away from the hot sand.
      • They excrete small amounts of urine, dung is dry, and they do not sweat.
    • Rats and Snakes:
      • Stay in sand inside the deep burrow.
      • Come out only at night as the night is cooler.
    • Plants:
      • Leaves are either absent, in the form of spines or very small.
      • Desert plants usually don’t have leaves due to water scarcity. They do Photosynthesis by their stems. E.g., Cactus, etc.
      • The stem is covered with a thick waxy layer to retain water.
      • Succulents have thickened, fleshy parts to store water.
      • Roots are usually very deep into the soil for absorbing water.
  • Mountainous regions:
    • Trees:
      • Cone-shaped and have sloping branches.
    • Animals:
      • Thick skin or fur, e.g., Yaks, Snow leopard, etc.
      • Mountain goats have strong hooves for running on rocky slopes.
  • Grasslands:
    • Lion:
      • Long claws for catching prey.
      • Light brown color for hiding in dry grasslands.
      • Front eye helps in detecting prey.
    • Deer:
      • Strong teeth for chewing hard plant stems.
      • Long ears to hear movements of predators.
      • Eyes on the side of the head to watch in all directions for danger.
      • Fast running ability to escape predators.

Some Aquatic Habitats and Adaptations

  • In Oceans:
    • Streamlined bodies for easy flow.
    • Gills for using oxygen dissolved in water.
    • Dolphins and whales breathe in air through nostrils and come out to the surface.
  • In ponds and lakes:
    • Roots fixed in the soil below water.
    • Long, hollow, and light stems growing up to the water’s surface.
    • Leaves and flowers of plants float on the water’s surface.
    • Submerged plants have narrow, thin leaves that can bend in flowing water.
    • Frogs have webbed feet for swimming.

Characteristics of Organisms

  • Living things have common characteristics: Need for food, growth, respiration, excretion, response to the environment, reproduction, growth, and movement.
  • Food: Provides energy for growth and life processes.
  • Growth: Different stages from newborn to adult.
  • Breathing: Part of the process called Respiration.
    • Earthworms breathe through their skin.
    • Fishes use gills for oxygen in water.
    • Plant leaves take in air through tiny pores.
  • Respond to Environment:
    • Changes in surroundings leading to responses, e.g., cockroaches running from extreme light.
    • Plants like Mimosa close their leaves when touched.
  • Excretion: The process of getting rid of wastes.
  • Reproduce:
    • Animals produce young through eggs or birth.
    • New plants grow through seeds or other parts.
    • Living things exhibit these characteristics, while non-living things may not display them simultaneously.


In essence, understanding habitats and their diverse components is crucial to appreciating the intricacies of life on Earth. The broad classification into terrestrial and aquatic habitats, along with the recognition of biotic and abiotic components, lays the foundation for comprehending the delicate balance that sustains various ecosystems. The concept of adaptation emerges as a key survival strategy, illustrated vividly in terrestrial habitats like deserts and mountainous regions, where organisms showcase remarkable adjustments to environmental challenges. Likewise, aquatic habitats reveal a spectrum of adaptations, from streamlined bodies in oceans to specialized respiratory mechanisms in ponds and lakes. Recognizing the characteristics of living organisms further deepens our insight into the dynamic interplay between life forms and their environments. This exploration into the rich tapestry of habitats and the characteristics of organisms underscores the intricate dance of survival, growth, and reproduction, ultimately emphasizing the remarkable diversity and resilience embedded in the natural world.

FAQs on Habitat

Q. What is the primary distinction between a habitat and an environment?

Answer: The key difference lies in the presence of life; a habitat always contains life, whereas the environment may not necessarily do so.

Q. Can an environment be a habitat for multiple species?

Answer: Yes, an environment can serve as a preference for many species, potentially giving rise to multiple habitats.

Q. Why is it stated that all habitats are environments, but not all environments are habitats?

Answer: While every habitat is part of the broader environment, not every environmental space necessarily supports the specific conditions required to be considered a habitat.

Q. Is a habitat exclusively chosen by one species?

Answer: Yes, a habitat is always a preference for a particular species, distinguishing it as a specific ‘address’ for that organism.

Q. What influences the properties of a habitat according to the article?

Answer: The article mentions that the environment usually governs the properties of a habitat, emphasizing that the relationship is more one-sided, with the environment impacting the habitat rather than the reverse.

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