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The Importance of all Creatures

Bumblebee on the jobEvery living thing has a special place in its ecosystem called an ecological niche or ecosystem service. These services are not restricted to animals, but extend to plants, and even bacteria. Nor is the ecological niche simply a place where a particular animal chooses to live. Certain species have specific behaviours or attributes that directly affect the lives of other species in the ecosystem. For example, a honeybee collects pollen from flowers to feed its larvae. In doing so, the bee pollinates the flowers thereby ensuring the reproduction of the plant. So, without the honeybee many plants would have a hard time reproducing.

The ecosystem service also has to be thought of in terms of competition. Two animals that perform the same service cannot live in the same ecosystem - there are just not enough resources for both of them! Eventually one will out-compete the other. All of the individual species that inhabit an ecosystem are part of a delicate balance. If one species disappears in that area, through natural or man-made causes, another species existing at low population levels will increase and fill that empty niche. 

It might be easier to think of ecosystem services as competing shoe stores in a small town or village. If the two stores are selling the same shoes, one or both of them will eventually go out of business. However, if they sold slightly different types of shoes, there could be room for both in the town. The same idea applies with animals and plants in an ecosystem. If there are two similar species of insects, for example, one of them will either have to leave, or adapt to the environment to occupy a slightly different niche, as one will prove more competitive in obtaining resources than the other.

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