This perspective of niche allows for the existence of both ecological equivalents and empty niches. An ecological equivalent to an organism is an organism from a different taxonomic group exhibiting similar adaptations in a similar habitat, an example being the different succulents found in American and African deserts, cactus and euphorbia. As another example, the Anolis lizards of the Greater Antilles are a rare example of convergent evolution, adaptive radiation, and the existence of ecological equivalents: the Anolis lizards evolved in similar microhabitats independently of each other and resulted in the same ecomorphs across all four islands.
In 1927 Charles Sutherland Elton, a British ecologist, defined a niche as follows: "The 'niche' of an animal means its place in the biotic environment, its relations to food and enemies."
Elton classified niches according to foraging activities ("food habits"): "For instance there is the niche that is filled by birds of prey which eat small animals such as shrews and mice. In an oak wood this niche is filled by tawny owls, while in the open grassland it is occupied by kestrels. The existence of this carnivore niche is dependent on the further fact that mice form a definite herbivore niche in many different associations, although the actual species of mice may be quite different."
The shape of the bill of this Purple-throated Carib is complementary to the shape of the flower, enabling it to exploit the nectar as a resource
The Hutchinsonian niche is an n-dimensional hypervolume, where the dimensions are environmental conditions and resources, that define the requirements of an individual or a species to practice "its" way of life, more particularly, for its population to persist. The "hypervolume" defines the multi-dimensional space of resources (e.g., light, nutrients, structure, etc.) available to (and specifically used by) organisms, and "all species other than those under consideration are regarded as part of the coordinate system."
The niche concept was popularized by the zoologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson in 1957. Hutchinson wanted to know why there are so many types of organisms in any one habitat. His work inspired many others to develop models to explain how many and how similar coexisting species could be within a given community, and led to the concepts of 'niche breadth' (the variety of resources or habitats used by a given species), 'niche partitioning' (resource differentiation by coexisting species), and 'niche overlap' (overlap of resource use by different species).
Where three species eat some of the same prey, a statistical picture of each niche shows overlap in resource usage between three species, indicating where competition is strongest
Statistics were introduced into the Hutchinson niche by Robert MacArthur and Richard Levins using the 'resource-utilization' niche