The key difference between fundamental and realized niche is that the fundamental niche is the natural habitat of a species, where it can easily get food for its energy requirements and can mate and reproduce without the fear of predators. But, while the realized niche is a subset of fundamental niche that forces a species to live and adapt to the present conditions.
The word niche comes from a French word meaning nest. Joseph Grinnell introduced the term niche for the first time in 1917 to refer a habitat of a species in which it lives. One can call a niche as a total of all the ecological requirements that allow a species to mate and produce offspring, thus surviving and flourishing with any undue pressures. A particular niche can be either a fundamental niche or realized niche. A fundamental niche of a species is the habitat that is natural for it while a realized niche is the result of many factors, such as human activities, the presence of predators, and availability of its natural food resources. The purpose of this article is to discuss the difference between fundamental and realized niche.
1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is Fundamental Niche
3. What is Realized Niche
4. Similarities Between Fundamental and Realized Niche
5. Side by Side Comparison – Fundamental vs Realized Niche in Tabular Form
What is Fundamental Niche?
For any species to survive, and maintain its population, the environmental conditions must not be too harsh and individual members must be able to tolerate the environment, also be able to mate and reproduce. They must be able to have food to get nutrients and energy, also have means to avoid predators.
Accordingly, the fundamental niche is a natural area where there are total requirements of a species to survive and then thrive. Fundamental niche is, therefore, the maximum possible a species can have and utilize. Furthermore, this is a niche where the organisms do not have to worry about the limited nature of food resources or about predators. Hence, this niche provides its organisms with a comfortable environment in which, the species can mate and reproduce without any stress.
For instance, consider the life of racoons in the forest. They get plenty of food in the form of bugs, fruits and small creatures like insects for their energy requirements, and also they can easily hide from their predators. Hence, this is the racoon’s fundamental niche.
What is Realized Niche?
Realized niche is a subset of this fundamental niche as it describes ecological conditions that are available, and occupied by the species. Species will not find the fundamental niches since there are many factors affecting their habitats such as the presence of predators, human activities on the environment, etc. For example, though rats prefer to run everywhere and eat what they find, rats are not able to eat everything they like and have to make do with what they get because of human threats. Hence, the realized niche of the rat is the conditions and area where they get in real.
When considering another species; racoons, they live in a realized niche because of many limiting factors, such as industrialization, urbanization and deforestation. They are forced to live in an urban environment, where they have to feed upon waste and trash rather than insects and fruits that they prefer to eat when they were in their fundamental niche.
What are the Similarities Between Fundamental and Realized Niche?
- Fundamental and realized niche are two types of functional units that refer to the conditions needed for the survival of a species and their roles in the ecosystem.
- Also, realized niche is a subset of a fundamental niche.
What is the Difference Between Fundamental and Realized Niche?
Niche is a functional area of an organism in which a species live, reproduce and interact with abiotic factors. Niche can be either fundamental niche or a realized niche. Fundamental niche is the natural area where a species can live and reproduce. On the other hand, realized niche is the actual area that a species is found. Therefore, this is the key difference between the fundamental and realized niche.
Moreover, a further difference between fundamental and realized niche is that the fundamental niche describes the various ecological roles that a species can attain. On the other hand, realized niche describes the ecological roles that a species is actually doing. Also, since realized niche is a result of many factors, it is not a natural niche of a species while fundamental niche is a natural habitat. So, it is another difference between fundamental and realized niche. Though species more prefer fundamental niches, they actually exist in realized niches.
Below is an infographic on the difference between fundamental and realized niche.
Summary – Fundamental vs Realized Niche
Fundamental and realized niches are two types of niches in which species live. However, species live in realized niches. Fundamental niche describes the range of conditions and ecological roles of species in the environment. It is a natural habitat where a species can live and reproduce. However, fundamental niches are theoretical. Due to various factors, in the end, what the species get is a realized niche. Hence, realized niche is a range of conditions a species get in the environment. Species are well adapted to realized niche than the fundamental niche. Realized niche is narrow than the fundamental niche. This summarizes the difference between fundamental and realized niche.
1. Study.com, Study.com. Available here