Ever wonder why a certain plant is found in one location but not another?
An organism's fundamental niche and realized niche are two concepts that will get you one step closer to understanding this.
Both the fundamental niche and the realized niche refer to the space an organism occupies in an ecosystem.
The fundamental niche is all of the places that a species would be able to live whereas the realized niche is the actual space that it occupies within an ecosystem.
In other words, the fundamental niche is the precompetitive area and the realized niche is the postcompetitive area of the species.
Let’s look at an example:
The black spruce is a transcontinental species that can grow on a variety of sites in Canada. It is found on moist, organic soils in the northern part of its range, but is confined to wet, poorly drained sites towards the southern part of its range.
This illustrates that the Black Spruces grow in wet, poorly drained sites towards the south mainly because of competition AND not because it cannot tolerate the other types of soils.
Why are these concepts important?
The fundamental niche is an important concept to know when growing trees in a horticultural setting, it allows us to determine whether a species has the physiological capacity to grow at a certain site or not.
The realized niche provides us insight into why certain trees are not found at particular locations―a concept that may become increasingly useful as ecology contends with the issue of invasive species.