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Factors affecting the distribution of plant and animal species. Desert Kangaroo Rat. Polar Bears.

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Desert Kangaroo Rat

Polar Bears

If you look closely at the morphological, physiological, and behavioral characteristics of an individual plant or animal, you will notice how they are adapted for survival in the unique conditions of their environment. What are the differences between these species?


Factors affecting the distribution of plant species – Life exists within a narrow range of abiotic factors. There are species adapted to some extremes. The distribution of plant species depends on (and is an indicator of) these abiotic factors.



Colorado beetle is a folivore, The larvae (left) & adults (below) eat the leaves of potato plants as well as tomatoes, eggplants and other related plants, including petunias. This causes widespread crop failure by killing the plants.

Colorado potato beetle:

Leptinotarsa decemlineata



Ring-tailed lemurs feed on tamarind fruit pods. Frugivores (fruit eaters) perform an essential role in the life-cycle of the plant. They spread the seeds from the fruit in the feces.



Crocodiles hunt wildebeest

The giant anteater has an extended nose and a VERY long tongue for foraging for ants and termites.


Cape dwarf chameleon:


Chameleons (above) are adapted for hunting insect prey and avoiding larger predators by being able to change color to suit their back ground. This is due to color changing cells known as chromatophores. They can also swivel their eyes independently of each other!



Jewel wasps turn cockroaches into ‘zombies’ and lay their eggs inside them



Loa loafilariasis (african eye worm)

Hookworms – Intestinal mucosa

The hookworm is much smaller than a tapeworm. These parasites are rarely more than a centimeter long, and burrow into your small intestine to feast on your blood. Since hookworms latch onto your small intestine and divert nutrients away from the bloodstream, they're actually more problematic than tapeworms. Hookworm infection can lead to anemia, slower cognitive growth, and malnutrition.



Honeybee pollinating a flower.

A classic example of mutualism

Acacia ants

  • The Acacia ant provides protection for the Acacia tree en exchange for food (sugars) provided by the tree.
  • The honeybee (Apismellifera) gets food from the nectar of flowers. As it lands, it collects or delivers pollen grains, carried by its hairs.


Intra-specific competition for food led to adaptive radiation of beak shapes in the evolution of the Galapagos finches.


In this video, you can see two male giraffes fighting with their heads. It is thought that the long neck of the giraffe evolved not only as a consequence of reaching higher food (also intra-specific competition with other giraffes), but as an advantage in fights for mates and territory. Longer necks and bigger heads allow for HARDER HITS!!





In this video, a cheetah mother protects her young from a lion attack. The cheetah and lion compete with each other for food, though the lion will try to kill the young of other big cats if possible.


The Niche Concept:

  • A niche is the specialized habitat of an organism including:
  • Example:Amphiprionocellaris
  • Habitat: In specific anemone types only, tropical reefs.
  • Nutrition: Copepods, plankton & undigested food from anemone (omnivores)
  • Predators: Larger fish species
  • Interactions: Mutualism with anemones:
          • Anemone provides protection and some food
          • Clownfish provides food (feces), cleans and circulates water around the anemone.
  • Reproduction: All born male. Dominant male becomes female and lays eggs on flat areas near the anemone.

Fundamental and Realized Niches:

Giant Pandas have specialized niches so small changes in their habitats can be disastrous.


Fundamental and Realized Niches:

  • Invasive species, such as these zebra mussels, take advantage of new niches and are a strong example of interspecific competition in actions.
  • Their impact can result in local (or even permanent)extinction of native species.

GF Gause’s experiments into Niches

Paramecium is a genus of protists. Gause cultured two species:

P. aurelia & P. caudatum

When grown alone under ideal conditions (fundamental niche), each population grew to a higher maximum.

When grown together under the same conditions, one population would typically dominate and the other would die off.


Competitive exclusion principle example:

The Eurasian red squirrel (S. vulgaris) has suffered competitive exclusion due to the introduction of the Eastern grey squirrel (S. carolinensis) to the UK from the USA.

S. Carolinensis is larger, stronger, and can store more fat in winter, making it better able to survive and reproduce. It is more tolerant of habitat change than S. vulgaris

The red squirrel is now protected in many areas.


Niche Partitioning:

  • These warblers occupy very similar niches.
  • Minor variations suit them to slightly different parts of the same resource.

Niche Partitioning example:

Two species of spiny mouse (Acomys genus) use temporal partitioning – one feeding during the day and the other feeding on the same insects at night.

Some other species reproduce at different times of year as a method of temporal partitioning.


Why bother?

We can measure and monitor an area’s productivity:


Measuring Biomass

Ethical considerations: