Reading Exercise: Natural Habitats
Every living thing has a particular place in which it lives, and we call this place its habitat. A good habitat provides everything an organism needs to survive. It provides food and shelter, places for breeding or laying eggs, the right kind of climate, and so on. Every particular type of organism, or species, needs a particular type of natural habitat. For some species it could be deep in a forest, while for others it could be deep in the ocean. No matter what type of habitat a species needs, it will have to share it with other species who have adapted to the same kind of natural environment.
When many species share a particular habitat, some species will be food for other species, which in turn might be food for others even higher up the food chain. Food chains are just one of many relationship networks within a habitat that together form what we call an ecosystem. As such, every species becomes part of an ecosystem within its particular habitat. Lions, for example, live in habitats across the grasslands of central Africa. They are apex predators, which means they are at the top of the food chain in their ecosystem. The food chains that lions are part of include various grasses and other plants eaten by the animals that lions eat, such as zebras, buffaloes and giraffes.
Habitats are often divided into three main types: terrestrial, freshwater and marine. Terrestrial habitats are places on land like forests, woodlands, grasslands and deserts, while freshwater habitats include rivers, lakes, ponds and inland swamps and marshes. Marine habitats include all those places that are part of the world's oceans such as coastal rock pools, coral reefs, open seas far from land, and seabeds on the ocean floor.
Habitats can also be put into categories based on climate type. For example, polar bears and emperor penguins live in very cold polar habitats, while gorillas and orangutans live in much warmer tropical habitats. Even though gorillas inhabit mountain forests in equatorial Africa and orangutans live in the rainforests of equatorial southeast Asia, both can be said to live in tropical habitats. Habitats can also be put into categories based on vegetation type. For example, we can also say orangutans live in rainforest habitats, while lions live in grassland habitats.
Habitats and Ecosystems
No matter what kind of habitat we're talking about, we can be sure it contains many species that each form part of a complex ecosystem. An ecosystem in a terrestrial habitat usually involves a wide range of species including plants, animals, birds, insects and microorganisms in the soil. These organisms are linked in a variety of ways. Animals might eat other animals, or they might depend on plants for food. And the plants might depend on nutrients in the soil from the waste of these animals. Microorganisms might depend on dead bodies for food, and insects might play an essential role in the pollination of certain plants. If the insects disappear, the plants will eventually disappear as well if they can't produce seeds. And birds that depend on these plants for food as well as nest-building materials might also disappear, and so on.
All of these connections among organisms in a habitat form an ecosystem, and while some organisms might survive changes to their ecosystem, many may not. The most vulnerable might even become endangered if important habitats are damaged or lost.
breeding (noun): the process by which organisms reproduce - A suitable habitat is essential for successful breeding.
coral reef (noun): a marine habitat around rock-like calcium formations created by colonies of living coral - Coral reefs are teeming with marine life.
ecosystem (noun): a complex network of relationships among organisms - Our river's ecosystem is being destroyed by toxic factory waste.
endangered (adjective): in danger of becoming extinct or disappearing in the near future - Over 30,000 species are already endangered.
equatorial (adjective): near the equator, or similar to somewhere near the equator - I used to think that all rainforests were equatorial.
food chain (noun): a linked series of relationships wherein one species is food for another, which in turn is food for another, and so on - Nothing eats lions, so they must be at the top of their food chain.
habitat (noun): the place in which a particular animal, plant or other organism usually lives, such as a forest, river, grassland, etc - If it's the habitat of an endangered species, it must be protected.
inhabit (verb): to live in a particular place - The islands are inhabited by millions of seabirds during the breeding season.
marine (adjective): related to the sea - They catch fish and other marine creatures.
marsh (noun): an area of soft, wet land that often floods during high tides or the rainy season - Marshes are really important habitats for water birds.
natural environment (noun): any place still in its natural state - Our goal is to protect natural environments from destructive human activity.
natural habitat (noun): the place in which a species normally lives - If the tiger's natural habitat isn't protected, it'll soon be extinct.
orangutan (noun): a large ape with long red hair and long arms that inhabits the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra - If you look an orangutan in the eye, it's just like looking another person in the eye.
organism (noun): a living thing, such as an animal, plant, bird or bacterium - Good soil is full of organisms, many of which are microorganisms too small to see.
pollination (noun): the process by which pollen is moved from one flower to another, often by an insect or bird, to allow fertilization - Pollination only occurs when there are plenty of bees here to do it.
species (noun): a group of very similar organisms that can reproduce - Did you hear about this new species of tree kangaroo they found in Australia?
terrestrial (adjective): on or related to the Earth's land (as opposed to the sea or the sky) - Most mammals are terrestrial, but whales and dolphins and marine mammals.
- World Wildlife Fund on Habitats - read about natural habitats in this section of the official WWF website
- National Geographic's page on natural habitats, with links to a quiz and related pages
- Wikipedia's entry on habitats
- Our Planet - First Episode
The first of seven episodes of the 2020 documentary series Our Planet that can be viewed in full on YouTube for free, or on Netflix. This episode looks at the Earth as a whole, while each of the following six episodes looks at a particular habitat type: polar, jungle, coastal seas, deserts and grasslands, the high seas, freshwater and forests. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, with perfect CC subtitles in English available. (50 mins / highly recommended)
- The Perfect Coral Reef
Sir David Attenborough also narrates this short documentary on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, a beautiful natural habitat teeming with fish and other marine life. (4 mins)
- Teaching materials from National Geographic for Kids - free PDF files with full-colour posters and lesson plans (for young learners of all levels)
- Teacher toolkit for Our Planet - downloadable discussion and activity guides for each of seven episodes of the Our Planet documentary series detailed above in Further Viewing (intermediate to advanced)