Realized Niche: Example & Definition

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  • 0:00 What Is a Realized Niche?
  • 1:37 Examples of Realized Niches
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nicholas Gauthier
Every organism is adapted to environmental conditions in its habitat. However, it sometimes faces competition with other species that limits the conditions under which it can exist. Explore how competition between species can shape an organism's niche.

What Is a Realized Niche?

The role that an organism plays in nature is called ecological niche. For an animal, that niche includes things like its behavior, the food it eats, and whether it is active at night or in the day. For a plant, it includes how much direct sunlight it can tolerate and the sort of soil on which it thrives.

Every organism, whether an apex predator like the lion or a bacterium living in a hippo's intestinal tract, is likely to face competition from other species. The most direct form of competition comes from those organisms that try to make a living in almost the exact same way. For example, a lion does not worry much about the presence of a mongoose, but it is certainly concerned when a pack of hyenas moves in. This direct form of competition for an ecological niche is called interspecific competition.

If all the lions' competitors, such as hyenas, leopards, and hunting dogs, were to leave the African savanna, the lions would have the prey to themselves. Their niche would be wide open, limited only by their adaptations to their habitat and lifestyle. This ideal niche that would exist in the absence of competition from other species is called a species' fundamental niche. However, organisms like the lion are generally forced to play a more limited role thanks to competition. The actual niche that a species fills in the face of interspecific competition is called its realized niche.

Examples of Realized Niches

Before European settlers came to North America, wolves ranged across the continent. Larger and stronger than coyotes, they were able to compete well for food and territory. The coyotes had a difficult time competing for the same habitat. Coyotes, therefore, had a limited realized niche.

Eventually, American hunters wiped out the wolf populations in places such as New England and New York. Coyotes, better able to coexist with humans, have moved into habitats the wolves have been evicted from. Enjoying a wider range, their realized niche is now much larger than before.

Two species of barnacle, Cthalamus and Balanus, both live on intertidal rocks. These rocks are mostly exposed at low tide and mostly covered at high tide. While each can survive being exposed to the air for a time, Cthalamus can last longer in the air than Balanus. Both barnacles are happy being completely submerged.

However, Balanus is better able to utilize the living space than Cthalamus. In fact, Balanus completely excludes Cthalamus, up to a certain point. Higher than that, Balanus cannot survive. The only available space left for Cthalamus is near the high tide mark. This is a realized niche.

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