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AP Enviro



Unit 3

3.1 Generalist and Specialist Species

3 min readmay 1, 2020

Karla Jauregui Sandoval

What does generalist and specialist mean? 

As reviewed in Unit 1 there is a range of environmental conditions all over the world, ranging from a biome with low precipitation to another with water all year long. The range of conditions connects to the adaptability a species has to live in certain environmental conditions. Thus the terms generalist vs species comes into play. These two categories use a number of factors to divide organisms on their adaptability to different conditions.  The number of factors that can be used to different generalist vs specialist are 

  • Niche/ Adaptability ➢ What is the range of tolerance to change in an environment 

  • Diet  ➢ What is the variety of the resources they are able to survive off 

  • Location ➢ Where the species are mostly found 

  • Tolerance ➢ How a population reacts to ecological changes



Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Characteristics of a Generalist Species 

 A generalist is a species that has a broad niche and is able to adapt to many environmental conditions. They do not have a limited diet and are able to survive by using a variety of resources. Generalist species can be found in a larger range of locations around the world as they are adaptable. Additionally, they have a higher tolerance to environmental change. 

A key feature of generalist species is that they have a higher advantage of surviving in  habitat that is changing.. They are able to survive because they have a large range of resources which allows them to  adapt to a wide range of environmental conditions and diet as well. 

An example of a generalist species is a raccoon. A raccoon has a broad niche because it can adapt to any environmental conditions. You can find raccoons in your backyard, local city dumpsters on a family trip across the world. They are adaptable to change and are mostly found in suburban or urban areas. Their diet aligns with the season and their surroundings. They could eat berries of human litter depending on their environment. 


Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Characteristics of a Specialist Species 

A specialist species, on the other hand, has a narrow niche and is not adaptable to change in their environment. They have a limited diet and can not survive without their necessary diet. Specialist species are found in specific habitats because they need the appropriate amount of food, water, sunlight and shelter. Their range of tolerance is low which means that they are not suitable to change in their environment. Everything needs to be balanced or else a specialist population will decline. 

A key feature of a specialist species is that they are not able to survive as well in a changing habitat as generalist species are. This is due because they have a narrow niche with a limited range of resources. 

An example of a specialist species is a panda. Pandas need a certain diet and habitat in order to survive. Pandas are mostly found in Temperate Broadleaf Deciduous Forests, Tropical Broadleaf Evergreen, and Bamboo Forests because of the specific diet they have. Pandas can only survive off eating bamboo and other grasses. 

⚡ Checkpoint question 

A temperate grassland inhabits a variety of species with plants and animals. A natural disaster destroys their habitat and brings in different species to the habitat. Which organisms are most likely to survive in the new environmental conditions and why?  



Niche/ Adaptability 

Broad Niche and adaptable to many environments 

Narrow niche and are not adaptable to change in environment 


Not a picky eater, use a variety of resources 

Limited diet


Can be found around the world, not one specific  location

Found in specific habitats 

Range of Tolerance 

High tolerance “Go with the flow”  quite tolerant to changes in ecosystem, resit changes 

Low tolerance “That is not how we do it” 

Highly sensitive to change, pop. declines to change 


Raccoons, rats, mice, cockroaches, coyotes, whitetail deer, brown rats, horseshoe crab 

Panda, river otter, owls, koala, sword-billed hummingbird, venus flytrap 

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