• habitat
    Red-eyed tree frogs live in a tropical rain forest habitat.

    Photograph by Sergio Molina, Your Shot

    Red-Eyed Tree Frog
    The red-eyed tree frogs habitat is in tropical areas from southern Mexico to northern South America. Although they are not endangered, their habitat is growing smaller. If their rainforest home continues to shrink, the red-eyed tree frog will not have the space it needs to survive.

    A habitat is a place where an organism makes its home. A habitat meets all the environmental conditions an organism needs to survive. For an animal, that means everything it needs to find and gather food, select a mate, and successfully reproduce.

    For a plant, a good habitat must provide the right combination of light, air, water, and soil. For example, the prickly pear cactus, which is adapted for sandy soil, dry climates, and bright sunlight, grows well in desert areas like the Sonoran Desert in northwest Mexico. It would not thrive in wet, cool areas with a large amount of overcast (shady) weather, like the U.S. states of Oregon or Washington.

    The main components of a habitat are shelter, water, food, and space. A habitat is said to have a suitable arrangement when it has the correct amount of all of these. Sometimes, a habitat can meet some components of a suitable arrangement, but not all.

    For example, a habitat for a puma could have the right amount of food (deer, porcupine, rabbits, and rodents), water (a lake, river, or spring), and shelter (trees or dens on the forest floor). The puma habitat would not have a suitable arrangement, however, if it lacks enough space for this large predator to establish its own territory. An animal might lose this component of habitat—space—when humans start building homes and businesses, pushing an animal into an area too small for it to survive.

    Space

    The amount of space an organism needs to thrive varies widely from species to species. For example, the common carpenter ant needs only a few square inches for an entire colony to develop tunnels, find food, and complete all the activities it needs to survive. In contrast, cougars are very solitary, territorial animals that need a large amount of space. Cougars can cover 455 square kilometers (175 square miles) of land to hunt and find a mate. A cougar could not survive in the same amount of space that a carpenter ant needs.

    Plants need space, too. Coast redwood trees, like the ones in Redwood National Park in the U.S. state of California, can reach more than 4.5 meters (15 feet) in diameter and 106 meters (350 feet) in height. A tree that massive would not have enough space to grow and thrive in a typical community park or yard.

    Space is not the same as range; the range of an animal is the part of the world it inhabits. Grassland, for example, is the habitat of the giraffe, but the animal’s range is central, eastern, and southern Africa.

    Food

    The availability of food is a crucial part of a habitat’s suitable arrangement. For example, in the northern part of the U.S. state of Minnesota, black bears eat mostly plants, like clover, dandelions, and blueberries. If there were a drought, plants would become scarce. Even though the habitat would still have space (large forest), shelter (caves, forest floor), water (streams and lakes), and some food, it wouldn’t have enough to eat. It would no longer be a suitable arrangement.

    Too much food can also disrupt a habitat. Algae is a microscopic aquatic organism that makes its own food through the process of photosynthesis. Nutrients like phosphorous contribute to the spread of algae. When a freshwater habitat has a sharp increase in phosphorous, algae “blooms,” or reproduces quickly. Algae also dies very quickly, and the decaying algae produces an algal bloom. The algal bloom can discolor the water, turning it green, red, or brown. Algal blooms can also absorb oxygen from the water, destroying the habitat of organisms like fish and plants. Excess nutrients for algae can destroy the habitat’s food chain.

    Water

    Water is essential to all forms of life. Every habitat must have some form of a water supply. Some organisms need a lot of water, while others need very little. For example, dromedary camels are known for their ability to carry goods and people for long distances without needing much water. Dromedary camels, which have one hump, can travel 161 kilometers (100 miles) without a drink of water. Even with very little access to water in a hot, dry climate, dromedary camels have a suitable arrangement in northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

    Cattails, on the other hand, are plants that grow best in wet areas, like marshes and swamps. Dense colonies of these tall, spiky plants grow directly in the mud beneath lakes, stream banks, and even neighborhood ponds. A cattail habitat’s suitable arrangement depends on water. Imagine a pond at the bottom of a dirt-covered cliff. If enough loose dirt slid down into the pond, it could fill up the pond and absorb the water, not leaving enough for the cattails to grow.

    Shelter

    An organism’s shelter protects it from predators and weather. Shelter also provides a space for eating, sleeping, hunting, and raising a family. Shelters come in many forms. A single tree, for example, can provide sheltered habitats for many different organisms. For a caterpillar, shelter might be the underside of a leaf. For a mushroom fungus, shelter might be the cool, damp area near tree roots. For a bald eagle, shelter may be a high perch to make a nest and watch for food.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    absorb Verb

    to soak up.

    algae Plural Noun

    (singular: alga) diverse group of aquatic organisms, the largest of which are seaweeds.

    algal bloom Noun

    the rapid increase of algae in an aquatic environment.

    animal Noun

    organisms that have a well-defined shape and limited growth, can move voluntarily, acquire food and digest it internally, and can respond rapidly to stimuli.

    aquatic Adjective

    having to do with water.

    bald eagle Noun

    white-headed bird of prey native to North America.

    black bear Noun

    large animal (mammal) native to North America.

    carpenter ant Noun

    common wood-eating black or brown ant.

    caterpillar Noun

    larva of a butterfly or moth.

    cattail Noun

    aquatic plant.

    cave Noun

    underground chamber that opens to the surface. Cave entrances can be on land or in water.

    cliff Noun

    steep wall of rock, earth, or ice.

    Encyclopedic Entry: cliff
    climate Noun

    all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate
    coast redwood Noun

    tallest tree species on Earth.

    colony Noun

    group of one species of organism living close together.

    component Noun

    part.

    cougar Noun

    large cat native to the Americas. Also called puma, mountain lion, and panther.

    crucial Adjective

    very important.

    damp Adjective

    slightly wet.

    decay Verb

    to rot or decompose.

    dense Adjective

    having parts or molecules that are packed closely together.

    desert Noun

    area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

    Encyclopedic Entry: desert
    destroy Verb

    to ruin or make useless.

    discolor Verb

    to change from something's natural color.

    dromedary camel Noun

    large pack animal with one hump, native to North Africa and the Middle East.

    drought Noun

    period of greatly reduced precipitation.

    Encyclopedic Entry: drought
    establish Verb

    to form or officially organize.

    excess Noun

    extra or surplus.

    food Noun

    material, usually of plant or animal origin, that living organisms use to obtain nutrients.

    Encyclopedic Entry: food
    food chain Noun

    group of organisms linked in order of the food they eat, from producers to consumers, and from prey, predators, scavengers, and decomposers.

    Encyclopedic Entry: food chain
    forest Noun

    ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

    freshwater Adjective

    having to do with a habitat or ecosystem of a lake, river, or spring.

    fungus Noun

    (plural: fungi) type of organism that survives by decomposing and absorbing the material in which it grows.

    giraffe Noun

    large mammal with a long neck, native to Africa.

    grassland Noun

    ecosystem with large, flat areas of grasses.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    hunt Verb

    to pursue and kill an animal, usually for food.

    impact Noun

    meaning or effect.

    lake Noun

    body of water surrounded by land.

    marsh Noun

    wetland area usually covered by a shallow layer of seawater or freshwater.

    Encyclopedic Entry: marsh
    massive Adjective

    very large or heavy.

    microscopic Adjective

    very small.

    mud Noun

    wet soil.

    mushroom Noun

    fungus, usually with an umbrella-shaped cap on top of a slender stalk.

    neighborhood Noun

    an area within a larger city or town where people live and interact with one another.

    Encyclopedic Entry: neighborhood
    nutrient Noun

    substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

    Encyclopedic Entry: nutrient
    organism Noun

    living or once-living thing.

    overcast Adjective

    very cloudy.

    oxygen Noun

    chemical element with the symbol O, whose gas form is 21% of the Earth's atmosphere.

    park Noun

    area of land set aside for recreational use.

    perch Verb

    to sit or rest on a tree branch or other elevated position.

    phosphorus Noun

    chemical element with the symbol P.

    photosynthesis Noun

    process by which plants turn water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide into water, oxygen, and simple sugars.

    plant Noun

    organism that produces its own food through photosynthesis and whose cells have walls.

    pond Noun

    small body of water surrounded by land.

    predator Noun

    animal that hunts other animals for food.

    prickly pear cactus Noun

    American plant with spiny, flat pads.

    puma Noun

    mammal, relative to a cat, native to the Americas. Also called a cougar or mountain lion.

    range Noun

    agricultural land where livestock graze.

    reproduce Verb

    to create offspring, by sexual or asexual means.

    root Noun

    part of a plant that secures it in the soil, obtains water and nutrients, and often stores food made by leaves.

    scarce Adjective

    rare.

    shelter Noun

    structure that protects people or other organisms from weather and other dangers.

    soil Noun

    top layer of the Earth's surface where plants can grow.

    solitary Adjective

    alone or preferring to be alone.

    space Noun

    amount of habitat an organism needs to thrive.

    spring Noun

    small flow of water flowing naturally from an underground water source.

    suitable arrangement Noun

    habitat with the correct amounts of food, water, shelter, and space for an organism.

    swamp Noun

    land permanently saturated with water and sometimes covered with it.

    Encyclopedic Entry: swamp
    territorial Adjective

    very protective of a specific area, especially defending it against intruders.

    territory Noun

    land an animal, human, or government protects from intruders.

    thrive Verb

    to develop and be successful.

    tree Noun

    type of large plant with a thick trunk and branches.

    typical Adjective

    ordinary.

    vary Verb

    to change.

    yard Noun

    land surrounding a house or building.

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