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Home Sweet Home

What would happen if you relocated an orca whale and from the Pacific Ocean to Lake Superior?

While Lake Superior might be a large enough body of water, it's not a good home for an orca. The home, or habitat, of an orca whale has some specific features:

  • a saltwater environment
  • prey such as seals, squid, sea lions,
    penguins, fish, and other whales
  • a large migration area

Lake Superior doesn't have all of these features. If relocated, an orca would very likely die there. It's like that with all living things. Organisms usually live in habitats where the environment suits them.

Home is...

Let's start by looking at what organisms need to survive and thrive. All living things need food, water, shelter, and space — they need these things to be in a suitable arrangement (put together in a certain way).

Use this chart to look at some examples!


  • Sloths live in the treetops and eat leaves, fruit, and twigs. They don't move very well on land. They need to live in areas where they can easily move from tree to tree.
  • Hummingbirds need to eat many times their body weight each day because of their energy needs. Hummingbirds must live in a habitat where there is plenty of nectar to feed on.


  • A Saguaro cactus has special tissues that store water. These tissues allow cactus to live in desert areas where there is little precipitation.
  • The Balsam fir tree grows best in soils that are very moist and in areas where there is high humidity.



  • Unlike many trees, the Canadian Hemlock is a conifer that grows well in shady areas.
  • Yellow-eyed penguins nest above ground. They need areas of thick vegetation along coastlines (like a coastal forest) to breed and raise their young.

Biomes and Habitats

The plants and animals of earth live in an area called the biosphere. The biosphere is huge and is full of life! One of the ways that ecologists divide the biosphere for study is by using biomes.

A biome is a large geographical area that has a specific climate and contains some very particular plants and animals. Some major biomes of the world include: desert, coniferous forest, deciduous forest, tundra, savannah, and taiga.

Biomes themselves are very large habitats. However, inside of each biome there are smaller habitats called microhabitats.

All of the organisms above share a biome we call deciduous forest. However, they all live in and use different areas of it.

  • The minnows call the rivers and streams home.
  • The walking stick lives and feeds on tree leaves.
  • The mushrooms make their home in a fallen log.
  • The bees construct their hive in the trunk of a tree.
  • The deer finds shelter and food under trees and in the brush.
  • The owl hunts in a specific area by air.
  • The snake makes its home in and round a stand of trees.

Of course, there are many more microhabitats in a deciduous forest. Each has the right arrangement of food, water, and shelter needed by the organisms that call it home.



a large geographical area that has a specific climate and contains distinct plants and animals
the natural environment of a plant or organism; the place an organism is usually found
an extremely localized,
small-scale environment, as a tree stump or a dead animal

a system formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with its environment

external factors and forces surrounding and affecting an organism


Environments are always changing. Sometimes these changes occur over a long period of time. Sometimes they are quick changes due to single event. Sometimes the changes are caused by the activities of humans. Sometimes changes are caused by natural events.

One of the effects of these changes is a need for habitats and organisms in the environment to change and adapt.

Here are some examples:

Mountain Lions Move to the City:
Cause Effect
Humans are building housing developments in areas that used to be mountain lion habitat. Mountain lions in the desert southwest have begun to move into the city to live and hunt. They are becoming less afraid of humans.
Owls Move In:
Cause Effect

Fallow farm land was planted with a crop of REAL TREES,

REAL TREE crops provide food and shelter for mice and other small herbivores. Owls feed on these animals. The increase in food source has brought more owls into the area.
Habitats Destroyed:
Cause Effect

Mount St. Helens erupted in May of 1980.

The eruption caused the destruction of most of the habitats in the area.


  • Because the eruption happened in the winter, many microhabitats were not destroyed.
  • After period of time, plants and have moved back into the Mount St. Helens area. (See Photos)


Like in other habitats, the organisms living on a tree farm interact with each other and with their environment. Unlike in some habitats, the habitats on a tree farm have elements that are natural and elements that have been produced or influenced by man.

The best way to discover how organisms are interacting with the environment is to observe them in action. Let's uncover a few of the organisms you might find if you visit a REAL TREE operation.

Organism Information
  • tree species
There are many possible tree types to be found on a REAL TREE operation. Each grower selects the species that will grow and sell best in the area. In addition, the area surrounding the operation is likely to have both coniferous and deciduous trees.
  • deer
Deer are herbivores. They like to feed on the seeds and needles of many REAL TREE crops.
  • chipmunk
Chipmunks take shelter in the burrows they dig close to solid objects - like a building, log, or tree. They are omnivores. They feed on seeds, fruits, nuts, slugs, snails, aphids, and other insects.
  • birds
It's possible for a wide variety of birds to call a REAL TREE operation home. Nutcrackers and chickadees can find shelter in the branches of a crop and food in the seeds. Birds-of-prey, like the owl, feed on the mice and other small mammals living in and around the operation.
  • insects

There are many different species of insects living on a REAL TREE operation. Some of these are harmful to the crop, others help, and others just find it a good place to all home. REAL TREE growers sometimes use insects to help control those species that are harmful.

Note: More information on Biological Pest Control can be found here.

  • earthworms

These earth-movers do wonderful things for the soil around the rows of REAL TREES. Their burrowing and tunneling aerates (adds air to) the soil. They also help decompose the organic materials found in soils.

Note: More information about Earthworms can be found here.

  • mice

These rodents live wherever food is stored. The omnivorous mouse can live in many locations on a REAL TREE operation — farm buildings, houses, storage sheds, in field burrows, etc. They eat seeds, fruits, grasses, and occasional insect. Most mice are not picky eaters!

  • moles

Moles are an order of mammals called insectivores. They eat earthworms and insects they find as they dig tunnels under the ground. Many humans think that moles are pests.

There are several species of moles. The species found on a REAL TREE operation will depend on where the operation is located.

A REAL TREE operation is a habitat full of different organisms with many microhabitats. Every operation is home to a variety of organisms each living day-to-day and interacting with the environment all around.

large geographical region characterized by distinctive types of plants and animals and a specific climate: tundra, tropical forest, desert, savanna, coniferous forest, deciduous forest, and temperate grassland, for example.

the part of the earth's crust, water, and atmosphere that supports life

a person who studies the relationships between organisms and their environment

external factors and forces surrounding and affecting an organism

the natural environment of a plant or organism; the place an organism is usually found

an extremely localized, small-scale environment, as a tree stump or a dead animal

Moose, Whitetail deer, chickadees, squirrels, nutcrackers, and porcupines all use the Balsam fir (its needles or seeds) for food.

Learn more about biomes by visiting these sites.

Earth Floor: Biomes

The World's Biomes

What's it Like Where You Live?

The folks at NASA have a biome mission for you! Will you choose to accept it?

Earth Observatory

Popcorn Balls

4 T. butter
1/4 C light brown sugar
3 qt. popped corn
1 C shelled sunflower seeds
raffia ribbon

In a large pot, melt butter. Add marshmallows and sugar to the melted butter. Remove from heat. Place corn and seed in a large bowl and pour in butter, marshmallow, and sugar mix. Toss well.

Butter hands and roll mix into balls. Stick raffia ribbon into center of ball. Set on parchment paper to cool.

The birds will eat the popcorn ball and use the raffia for their nesting!

Thanks to Linda Franz for this cool idea!

Mount St. Helens is a fascinating place to learn both about volcano activity and changing habitats. Use these links to find out more!

Cascades Volcano Observatory

Mt. St. Helens - USGS

Plant and Animal Recovery

Test your skills.

Coming Soon!

Ecology, the study of the relationships and interactions between organisms and their environment, is also called bionomics.

The best place to observe the microhabitats of a REAL TREE operation is on a REAL TREE operation!

Use the link below to find one near you.

Locate a Farm!

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