Resources are often limited within a habitat and multiple species may compete to obtain them. Ecologists have come to understand that all species have an ecological niche. A niche is the unique set of resources used by a species, which includes its interactions with other species. The competitive exclusion principle states that two species cannot occupy the same niche in a habitat: in other words, different species cannot coexist in a community if they are competing for all the same resources. This principle works because if there is an overlap in resource use and therefore competition between two species, then traits that lessen reliance on the shared resource will be selected for leading to evolution that reduces the overlap. If either species is unable to evolve to reduce competition, then the species that most efficiently exploits the resource will drive the other species to extinction. An experimental example of this principle is shown in Figure 19.19 with two protozoan species: Paramecium aurelia and Paramecium caudatum. When grown individually in the laboratory, they both thrive. But when they are placed together in the same test tube (habitat), P.aurelia outcompetes P.caudatum for food, leading to the latter’s eventual extinction.
Figure 19.19 Paramecium aurelia and Paramecium caudatum grow well individually, but when they compete for the same resources, the P. aurelia outcompetes the P. caudatum.