Niches are local tissue microenvironments that maintain and regulate stem cells. Long-predicted from mammalian studies, these structures have recently been characterized within several invertebrate tissues using methods that reliably identify individual stem cells and their functional requirements. Although similar single-cell resolution has usually not been achieved in mammalian tissues, principles likely to govern the behavior of niches in diverse organisms are emerging. Considerable progress has been made in elucidating how the microenvironment promotes stem cell maintenance. Mechanisms of stem cell maintenance are key to the regulation of homeostasis and likely contribute to aging and tumorigenesis when altered during adulthood.