Science, Tech, Math › Animals & Nature Animals and Their Environment How Animals Are Shaped by the Places They Live Share Flipboard Email Print This Arctic hare lives on the Cairngorm Plateau and is molting its summer coat to make way for its white winter coat. Duncan Shaw/Getty Images Science, Tech, Math Amphibians Birds Habitat Profiles Mammals Reptiles Wildlife Conservation Insects Marine Life Forestry Dinosaurs Evolution View More By Laura Klappenbach Ecology Expert M.S., Applied Ecology, Indiana University Bloomington B.S., Biology and Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Laura Klappenbach, M.S., is a science writer specializing in ecology, biology, and wildlife. our editorial process Laura Klappenbach Updated March 07, 2018 To understanding individual animals, and in turn populations of animals, you must first understand the relationship they have with their environment. Animal Habitats The environment in which an animal lives is referred to as its habitat. A habitat includes both biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components of the animal's environment. Abiotic components of an animal's environment include a huge range of characteristics, examples of which include: TemperatureHumidityOxygenWindSoil compositionDay lengthElevation Biotic components of an animal's environment include such things as: Plant matterPredatorsParasitesCompetitorsIndividuals of the same species Animals Get Energy From the Environment Animals require energy to support the processes of life: movement, foraging, digestion, reproduction, growth, and work. Organisms can be categorized into one of the following groups: Autotroph—an organism that obtains energy from sunlight (in the case of green plants) or inorganic compounds (in the case of sulfur bacteria)Heterotroph—an organism that uses organic materials as a source of energy Animals are heterotrophs, obtaining their energy from the ingestion of other organisms. When resources are scarce or environmental conditions limit the ability of animals to obtain food or go about their normal activities, animals' metabolic activity may decrease to conserve energy until better conditions prevail. A component of an organism's environment, such as a nutrient, that is in short supply and therefore limits the organism's ability to reproduce in greater numbers is referred to as a limiting factor of the environment. The different types of metabolic dormancy or responses include: Torpor—a time of decreased metabolism and reduced body temperature in daily activity cyclesHibernation—a time of decreased metabolism and reduced body temperature that may last weeks or monthsWinter sleep—periods of inactivity during which body temperature does not fall substantially and from which animals can be awakened and become active quicklyAestivation—a period of inactivity in animals that must sustain extended periods of drying Environmental characteristics (temperature, moisture, food availability, and so on) vary over time and location so animals have adapted to a certain range of values for each characteristic. The range of an environmental characteristic to which an animal is adapted is called its tolerance range for that characteristic. Within an animal's tolerance range is an optimal range of values at which the animal is most successful. Animals Become Acclimated to Survive Sometimes, in response to a prolonged change in environmental characteristic, an animal's physiology adjusts to accommodate the change in its environment, and in doing so, its tolerance range shifts. This shift in tolerance range is called acclimation. For example, sheep in cold, damp climates grow thicker winter coats. And, a study of lizards showed that those acclimated to warm weather could maintain a faster speed than lizards not acclimated to those conditions. Likewise, the digestive systems of white-tailed deer adjust to the available food supply in winter versus summer.