Resource Partitioning: Definition, Theory & Examples

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Lesson Transcript
Terry Dunn

Terry has a master's degree in environmental communications and has taught in a variety of settings.

Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

If you've ever wondered how so many similar species can share the same niche, resource partitioning may be the answer. Learn how partitioning resources allows organisms to specialize and outcompete their rivals.

What Is Resource Partitioning in Biology?

Have you ever bought one of those timed entry tickets to a museum show or special event? Have you ever shared a bunk bed with a sibling or a roommate? In each case, you were sharing a limited resource. In the case of timed tickets, you were sharing space and time, which was a limited resource because so many people wanted to experience the same thing at once. In the case of bunk beds, the limited resource may have been floor space in a small bedroom or dorm room.

When species divide a niche to avoid competition for resources, it is called resource partitioning. The timed entry tickets or bunk beds are similar to the way other species share food supplies or space in the wild. Animals and plants may evolve to reproduce at different times of the year, feed at different times of the day or night, or use a different part of a forest or different depths of a lake.

Scientists disagree on how resource partitioning should be viewed, however. Some believe that having a special adaptation, such as a habit of eating at night, or an extra-long tongue that can reach the biggest termites in a termite mound, is part of the definition of resource partitioning. Some would say partitioning is partitioning regardless of how it became that way.

Not all competition in nature is alike. Competition between species is called interspecific competition. An example of that would be two species of hummingbirds in a tropical rainforest, each using flower nectar as their main source of food. But, individuals of the same species can compete with each other also. That is intraspecific competition. Two tigers defining and defending their territories would be a good example of how individuals of the same species compete. Both the hummingbirds and the tigers are partitioning the resource they are competing for.

Examples of Resource Partitioning

Resource partitioning helps to explain how so many species of animals and plants can live in places like tropical rain forests. Many species have very specific ways they use a resource; so while it seems like many would be directly competing for the same things, they are often adapted for a very narrow piece of the resource pie.

On the island of Puerto Rico, two species of Anolis lizards compete for food or insects. Anolis evermanni and Anolis gundlachi both share the forest and the insects, but one species, gundlachi, hangs out within a couple meters of the ground, and the evermanni generally feeds in the branches above two meters.

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Additional Activities

Research on Resource Partitioning

In this activity, students will be researching an additional example of research partitioning, creating an analogy to represent it in their everyday life and creating an illustration that shows each. For example, students might research two species of finch in the Galapagos that have different sized beaks and thus eat different foods. This might be analogous to how their baby sibling only eats pureed foods, while they eat pizza. The student would then create an illustration of each, the finches and themselves and their sibling eating together. The illustration can be done using photographs from the internet and designed in a slide show, or it can be hand drawn in pencil or painted.


In this activity, you're going to be combining the art of academic research and creativity. First, you will be researching an example of resource partitioning that is not described in the lesson. You should use academic sources for this, such as articles written by scientists, or those published by the government, a news outlet or a university. Then, you will think of an analogy to this in your everyday life. For example, if you learn about two different species that eat different foods in a habitat, you might think about how you and your siblings share the snacks in your house based on personal preference. Then, you will create an illustration that shows both examples of resource partitioning. Your illustration can be done on the computer if you aren't so keen to draw something, or it can be done in colored pencil, paint or even clay if you're feeling artistic. To make sure your project meets all the requirements, check out the criteria for success below.

Criteria for Success

  • Final product includes a description of how resource partitioning is shown in the example
  • Final product focuses on one specific example of resource partitioning
  • Final product includes an analogy to everyday life about the resource partitioning
  • Final product includes an illustration that shows both the scientific example and the analogy
  • Final product is colorful and professionally completed

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