What Is The Difference Between A Biotope And A Habitat?

The rainforest is an example of a habitat.
The rainforest is an example of a habitat.

In many countries, the terms “biotope” and “habitat,” are usually taken to have the same meaning, and used as synonyms. Both are influenced by the composition of a biosphere and are both used to describe a particular area. However, a biotope and a habitat are quite different and have distinct meanings. There are several parameters used to establish the differences between a biotope and a habitat including their respective definitions, history of usage and respective characteristics.

Definition And Etymology

Biotope and habitat maybe used interchangeably in layman language but actually, have different definitions. A biotope is defined as a region which has the uniform biological environment and its interaction which a specific community of animal and plant species. On the flipside, a habitat is a natural environment in which a particular plant or animal species exists. Hence by definition, a habitat is based on a specific population while a biotope is based on a biological community. The word “habitat” comes from a Latin word “habere” which means “to hold” or “to have.” Biotope is derived from two Greek words “bios” and “topos” whereby “bios” means life while “topos” means place.


Biotope and habitat vary greatly in years of existence. Biotope is a relatively recent term as it was first coined by the 20th-century German professor, F. Dahl in 1908. However, as a concept, Ernst Haeckel referred to an ecosystem he labeled as biota in 1866, the earliest reference of a biotope in history. However, habitat is way older than biotope and has been used for centuries. The exact origin of the term “habitat” is not precisely known, but the earliest use of the term dates back to 1755.


One characteristic that distinguishes a biotope is its microscale nature whereby a biotope exists in a relatively tiny environment, sometimes as small as a flower pot. On the other hand, a habitat is not limited to a specified geographical area and can cover a large geographical area or a microscopic area. For example, the habitats of Siberian tiger spans hundreds of miles and the habitat of whales covers thousands of square miles, while the habitat of parasites and bacteria cover a tiny microscopic area. A biotope is usually described as a group, with numerous biotopes being interconnected with each other to form what is known as biotope networks. However, a habitat is normally described individually, with a particular species having a single habitat. Human interference and interaction are usually necessary for the protection and regeneration of a biotope, but in natural habitats, human interaction normally has detrimental effects on the environment.


There are more examples of biotopes than there are of habitats since biotopes are usually small in size. Habitats are usually classified into three main categories, which include marine, freshwater, and terrestrial habitats. Examples of terrestrial habitats include deserts, forests, savannahs, steppe, grasslands, and glaciers among others. Freshwater habitats include rivers, ponds, lakes, marshes, estuaries and streams, and underground rivers and lakes. Examples of marine habitats are reefs, deep seas, submarine vents, salt marshes, beaches, and the open sea. Examples of biotopes are too numerous to list but include stones, bushes, flower pots, gardens, mud, and much more.


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