Habitat – definition and meaning

The term habitat may refer to a person’s, animal’s, plant’s, or organism’s natural environment. It can mean somebody’s preferred or usual surroundings. When referring to non-human life forms, it only means their natural home or environment. Moisture, rainfall, light, and temperature, for example, are some physical factors that make up most habitats.

Some habitats, such as those of microscopic organisms, are tiny. However, the habitats of whales span many thousands of miles.

The term may also refer to artificial housing in inhospitable places, such as on the moon.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has the following definitions of the term:

“1. The place or environment where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives and grows. 2. The typical place of residence of a person or a group.”

“3. Housing for a controlled physical environment in which people can live under surrounding inhospitable conditions (as under the sea).”

Habitat - definition and some examples
The habitats of many animals, including polar bears and orangutans, are changing. Their populations could decline alarmingly if we do not take drastic action.

Habitat – where an organism exists

The term refers to the zone where a life form (organism) lives. It is where it can find shelter, mates, and food.

Organisms’ habitats are the natural environments in which they live. The term also means a population’s physical environment, i.e., the environment that surrounds a species population.

Habitats are either geographical areas or parts of things. In fact, they might even be parts of other organisms. It could be a rotten log, a clump of moss, under a rock, or the interior of a stem.

For a parasite; it is the host’s body. For example, a tapeworm’s habitat could be a human being; specifically a human’s gut. Tapeworms are flat, ribbon-like worms that live inside a host (human, dog, cat, etc.).

The human habitat is the environment in which we exist and interact. For example, a house is our habitat, where we sleep and eat.

Some animal populations are declining rapidly because their habitats are disappearing. The orangutan population in Indonesia, for example, has been plummeting. Humans have been burning their habitat to the ground.

Many migratory bird species are at risk of extinction due to habitat loss along their flight paths. The ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions said that 90% of migratory birds globally need significantly more protection.

Habitat – etymology

Etymology is the study of where words came from and how their meanings have developed. Somebody who studies the origin of words is an etymologist.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word ‘habitat’ has been in use since 1762. It was originally a technical term in Latin texts on English fauna and flora.

The Latin third person singular present indicative of Habitare means ‘to inhabit, live, or dwell.’

The Online Etymology Dictionary adds:

“This was the Modern Latin word that began the part of the scientific description of a plant or animal species that told its locality. General sense of ‘dwelling place’ is first attested 1854.”

Video – What is a habitat?

In this video, Mark Drollinger explains what habitats are.