The physical factors are for example soil, moisture, range of temperature, and light intensity as well as biotic factors such as the availability of food and the presence or absence of predators. Every organism has certain habitat needs for the conditions in which it will thrive, but some are tolerant of wide variations while others are very specific in their requirements. A habitat is not necessarily a geographical area, it can be the interior of a stem, a rotten log, a rock or a clump of moss, and for a parasitic organism it is the body of its host, part of the host's body such as the digestive tract, or a single cell within the host's body.
Habitat types include polar, temperate, subtropical and tropical. The terrestrial vegetation type may be forest, steppe, grassland, semi-arid or desert. Fresh water habitats include marshes, streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and estuaries, and marine habitats include salt marshes, the coast, the intertidal zone, reefs, bays, the open sea, the sea bed, deep water and submarine vents.
Habitats change over time. This may be due to a violent event such as the eruption of a volcano, an earthquake, a tsunami, a wildfire or a change in oceanic currents; or the change may be more gradual over millennia with alterations in the climate, as ice sheets and glaciers advance and retreat, and as different weather patterns bring changes of precipitation and solar radiation. Other changes come as a direct result of human activities; deforestation, the ploughing of ancient grasslands, the diversion and damming of rivers, the draining of marshland and the dredging of the seabed. The introduction of alien species can have a devastating effect on native wildlife, through increased predation, through competition for resources or through the introduction of pests and diseases to which the native species have no immunity.
The word "habitat" has been in use since about 1755 and derives from the Latin habitāre, to inhabit, from habēre, to have or to hold. Habitat can be defined as the natural environment of an organism, the type of place in which it is natural for it to live and grow. It is similar in meaning to a biotope; an area of uniform environmental conditions associated with a particular community of plants and animals.
The chief environmental factors affecting the distribution of living organisms are temperature, humidity, climate, soil type and light intensity, and the presence or absence of all the requirements that the organism needs to sustain it. Generally speaking, animal communities are reliant on specific types of plant communities.