Food Chain vs. a Niche
Understanding Terminology

Let's explore the difference between a food chain and a "niche."

  • A food chain follows energy through a system. It begins with plants obtaining energy from the sun and involves predator/prey interactions.

But organisms interact in many other ways, too! And they also interact with the physical environment. Such interactions make up an animal's niche.

  • A niche is the role an organism plays in a community; how an organism interacts with the environment and other organisms. More simply put, an organism's habitat is its home, and its niche is its job.

Draw a tree and the interactions listed below to illustrate the tree’s niche. Only some of the interactions are part of the food chain. Put a star to show which ones are:

  • A tree’s limb provides a nest for a bird.
  • A tree’s bark houses an insect during winter.
  • A woodpecker drums through a tree’s wood and captures an insect.
  • A tree’s roots absorb water from the soil.
  • A tree’s leaves gather sun and grow, through photosynthesis.
  • A tree’s leaves provide shade for a plant growing beneath it.
  • A tree’s leaves add humidity to the air, through transpiration.
  • A tree’s fallen leaves are eaten by a worm.
  • A tree’s branches serve as a highway for squirrels.
  • A tree’s highest branch is a perch for a hawk to sit and watch for prey.
  • A tree’s flowers are pollinated by the wind.
  • A tree’s seeds are eaten by a squirrel.
  • Add more ideas of your own!

National Science Education Standards

  • All animals depend on plants. Some animals eat plants for food. Others eat animals that eat plants.
  • For ecosystems, the major source of energy is sunlight. Energy entering ecosystems as sunlight is transferred by producers into chemical energy through photosynthesis. That energy then passes from organism to organism in food webs.
  • Populations of organisms can be categorized by the function they serve in an ecosystem.