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Fundamental Niche vs. Realized Niche: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Published on January 5, 2024
Fundamental Niche is the full range of environmental conditions where a species can live, while Realized Niche is where it actually lives, influenced by competition and other biotic factors.
Fundamental Niche vs. Realized Niche

Key Differences

Fundamental Niche refers to the broad spectrum of environmental conditions under which a species can potentially survive and reproduce. This concept encompasses all possible situations, resources, and interactions a species could theoretically have. In contrast, Realized Niche is narrower, describing the actual conditions where the species exists, taking into account interactions like competition, predation, and mutualism that limit its presence to a more defined scope.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024
The concept of Fundamental Niche is based on the species' physiological capacities and tolerances to environmental variables like temperature, humidity, and food availability. It's an ideal state without biotic interactions like competition. However, Realized Niche comes into play in real-world ecosystems where multiple species coexist, leading to restrictions and modifications of the niche a species occupies due to these interactions.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024
In Fundamental Niche, a species has the potential to exploit a full range of resources and habitats. This represents an ecological optimum without any external biotic constraints. The Realized Niche, on the other hand, is a subset of this, shaped by the dynamics of ecosystem relationships, where factors like competition, predation, and availability of resources play crucial roles in defining the actual living space of a species.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024
The distinction between Fundamental Niche and Realized Niche is crucial in understanding species distribution and ecosystem dynamics. The former is an idealized concept, rarely observed in nature, while the latter represents the practical outcome of ecological interactions, manifesting the species' actual distribution and resource usage.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024
While Fundamental Niche can be viewed as a species' potential ecological role, the Realized Niche signifies its actual role in the ecosystem. This real-world application is often much more restricted, influenced heavily by interspecies interactions, environmental pressures, and evolutionary adaptations.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024
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Comparison Chart

Definition

Theoretical range of conditions a species can occupy.
Actual conditions where a species lives.
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Jan 05, 2024

Influence

Defined by species' physiological limits.
Defined by ecological interactions and competition.
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Scope

Broad and idealistic.
Narrower, realistic.
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Interaction with Others

Does not consider interspecific interactions.
Heavily influenced by interspecific interactions.
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Observation in Nature

Rarely observed, more of a hypothetical concept.
Commonly observed, represents practical situations.
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Fundamental Niche and Realized Niche Definitions

Fundamental Niche

Potential geographical distribution of a species based on its physiological tolerances.
The kangaroo's fundamental niche extends to more varied landscapes than just the Australian Outback.
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Realized Niche

The ecological role a species plays in the presence of competitors and predators.
The realized niche of a small fish is confined to areas in the coral reef where it can evade larger predators.
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Fundamental Niche

The hypothetical extent of environmental conditions suitable for a species.
In its fundamental niche, the cactus could survive in more diverse arid zones than it currently inhabits.
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Realized Niche

Actual distribution and lifestyle of a species in a natural ecosystem.
The panda's realized niche is confined to bamboo forests where it feeds exclusively on bamboo.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 19, 2023

Fundamental Niche

The full range of conditions and resources under which a species can theoretically survive.
In its fundamental niche, the polar bear could inhabit a broader range of cold environments, beyond the Arctic regions.
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Realized Niche

The part of the fundamental niche that a species occupies due to biotic factors.
The realized niche of coral reefs is limited to shallow, warm waters where symbiotic algae can thrive.
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Dec 19, 2023

Fundamental Niche

Theoretical ecological role of a species without biotic constraints.
The fundamental niche of a lion includes regions it could potentially occupy without competition from other predators.
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Dec 19, 2023

Realized Niche

The actual conditions in which a species lives, influenced by ecological interactions.
In its realized niche, the eagle primarily occupies areas free from competition with larger birds of prey.
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Fundamental Niche

Maximum potential living space for a species based on abiotic factors.
The fundamental niche of the trout encompasses a wider range of freshwater bodies than where it is currently found.
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Realized Niche

The range of environmental conditions where a species actually exists.
In its realized niche, the desert fox is found only in specific arid regions that can support its lifestyle.
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

What factors define a fundamental niche?

Physiological tolerances and preferences of a species, like temperature and food sources.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024

What is a fundamental niche?

It's the full range of environmental conditions a species can theoretically inhabit, without biotic interactions.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024

What is a realized niche?

It's the actual conditions and space a species occupies in nature, influenced by ecological interactions.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024

How does a fundamental niche differ from a realized niche?

The fundamental niche is broader and theoretical, while the realized niche is narrower and based on real-world interactions.
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Jan 05, 2024

How do changes in an ecosystem affect these niches?

Alterations can cause shifts in both fundamental and realized niches, changing species distribution.
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What factors influence a realized niche?

Interactions like competition, predation, and mutualism shape a species' realized niche.
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Jan 05, 2024

Why does a realized niche tend to be smaller than a fundamental niche?

Because of limitations imposed by other species and environmental interactions.
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Jan 05, 2024

Can a realized niche change over time?

Yes, due to environmental changes or evolution.
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Jan 05, 2024

Can a species' fundamental and realized niches be the same?

Rarely, as realized niches are usually more restricted due to competition and other biotic factors.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024

What role does competition play in shaping realized niches?

Competition can restrict a species' access to resources, thus shaping its realized niche.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024

Why is the concept of the fundamental niche important?

It helps understand the full potential of a species' distribution and ecological role.
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Jan 05, 2024

What's an example of a fundamental niche?

A bird that can theoretically inhabit any temperate forest, but doesn't due to competition.
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Jan 05, 2024

How do fundamental and realized niches affect biodiversity?

They determine species distribution, which in turn affects ecosystem diversity.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024

Can human activities impact a species' realized niche?

Yes, through habitat destruction, pollution, and introducing invasive species.
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Jan 05, 2024

Is it possible for a species to expand its realized niche?

Yes, through adaptations or changes in the ecosystem that reduce competition.
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Jan 05, 2024

How do ecologists determine a species' fundamental niche?

Through studies of its physiology and potential interactions in different environments.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024

What is niche partitioning?

It's the process where species divide resources to reduce competition, affecting their realized niches.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024

Can invasive species alter the realized niches of native species?

Yes, by outcompeting them for resources.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024

What's an example of a realized niche?

A fish species living only in certain coral reefs due to predation pressures in other areas.
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Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024

Does climate change impact these niches?

Yes, by altering the environmental conditions and resources available.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Jan 05, 2024

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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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