Competitive Exclusion Principle

Graphs a, b, and c all plot number of cells versus time in days. In Graph (a), P. aurelia is grown alone. In graph (b), P. caudatum is grown alone. In graph (c), both species are grown together. When grown apart, the two species both exhibit logistic growth and grow to a relatively high cell density. When the two species are grown together, P. aurelia shows logistic growth to nearly the same cell density as it exhibited when grown alone, but P. caudatum hardly grows at all, and eventually its population drops to zero.
Paramecium aurelia and Paramecium caudatum grow well individually, but when they compete for the same resources, the P. aurelia outcompetes the P. caudatum. Source: OpenStax Biology 2e

Resources are often limited within a habitat and multiple species may compete to obtain them. All species have an ecological niche in the ecosystem, which describes how they acquire the resources they need and how they interact with other species in the community. 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. An example of this principle is shown above, 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.

This exclusion may be avoided if a population evolves to make use of a different resource, a different area of the habitat, or feeds during a different time of day, called resource partitioning. The two organisms are then said to occupy different microniches. These organisms coexist by minimizing direct competition.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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