What Is Resource Partitioning? Definition and Examples

Animals Competing for Resources
Intraspecific competition refers to competition for limited resources by individual organisms of the same species.

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Resource partitioning is the division of limited resources by species to help avoid competition in an ecological niche. In any environment, organisms compete for limited resources, so organisms and different species have to find ways to coexist with one another. By examining how and why resources are allocated in a particular niche, scientists can better understand the complex ecological interactions between and in species. Common examples of resource partitioning include the Anole lizards and a number of bird species.

Key Takeaways

  • The division of resources by species to help avoid competition in an ecological niche is called resource partitioning.
  • Intraspecific competition denotes competition for resources by individuals of the same species.
  • Interspecific competition is the competition for resources by individuals of different species.
  • By studying resource partitioning, scientists can understand how the addition or removal of a species may impact the overall usage of resources in a given habitat or niche.

Resource Partitioning Definition

The original concept of resource partitioning refers to the evolutionary adaptations in species as a response to the evolutionary pressure from interspecific competition. The more common basic biological usage is based on the different uses of resources by species in a particular niche and not on the specific evolutionary origin of such differences. This article explores the latter convention.

When organisms compete for limited resources, there are two primary types of competition: intraspecific and interspecific. As the prefixes denote, intraspecific competition refers to competition for limited resources by individual organisms of the same species, while interspecific competition refers to the competition for limited resources by individuals of different species.

When species compete for the exact same resources, one species typically has the advantage over another, even if only slightly so. The complete competition maxim states that complete competitors cannot coexist. The species with the advantage will persist in the long term. The weaker species will either become extinct or will transition to occupying a different ecological niche.

Habitat Partitioning Examples

One way that species can partition resources is by living in different areas of a habitat versus their competitors. One common example is the distribution of lizards in the Caribbean islands. The lizards mostly eat the same types of food—insects. However, they can live in different microhabitats within the context of their larger habitat. For example, some lizards can live on the forest floor while others may live higher up in the habitat in trees. This differentiation and partitioning of resources based on their physical location allows the different species to coexist more effectively with one another.

Food Partitioning Examples

Additionally, species can more effectively coexist based on food partitioning. For example, among species of lemur monkeys, food may be discriminated by the chemical characteristics of the food. Food partitioning based on plant chemistry can play an important role. This allows different species to coexist while eating similar yet chemically different foods.

Similarly, species may have an affinity for different parts of the same food. For example, one species may prefer a different part of the plant than another species, allowing them to effectively coexist. Some species may prefer the leaves of the plant while others prefer the plant stems.

Species can also partition food based on other characteristics such as different activity patterns. One species may consume most of their food during a certain time of day while another may be more active at night.

Long-Term Effects of Resource Partitioning

By partitioning out resources, species can have long-term coexistence with one another in the same habitat. This allows both species to survive and thrive rather than one species causing the other to go extinct, as in the case of complete competition. The combination of intraspecific and interspecific competition is important in relation to species. When different species occupy slightly different niches in relation to resources, the limiting factor for population size becomes more about intraspecific competition than interspecific competition.

Similarly, humans can have profound effects on ecosystems, particularly in causing species to go extinct. The study of resource partitioning by scientists can help us understand how the removal of a species may impact the overall allocation and usage of resources both in a particular niche and in the broader environment.


  • Walter, G H. “What Is Resource Partitioning?” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 21 May 1991, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1890851.
  • Ganzhorn, Jörg U. “Food Partitioning among Malagasy Primates.” SpringerLink, Springer, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00376949.