Wildlife Encounters - 9th - 12th grade
Lesson 2: Wildlife Populations
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Adaptations: Specialist and Generalist

Species that can live in many different types of environments, and have a varied diet are considered generalists. Raccoons are the classic example of a generalist species. Their range extends throughout North and Central America. They are omnivores that can thrive on many different foods, including human garbage. It is this ability to be successful in a variety of different environments that has enabled the raccoon to maintain large population sizes.

raccoon eating trash
map of raccoon territories

Specialist species are animals that require very unique resources. Often, these species have a very limited diet, or need a specific habitat condition to survive. Tiger salamanders are an example of specialists. They cannot reproduce unless they live in wetland habitats that do not dry out throughout the spring and summer. They also require an abundance of insects and worms for their diet.

tiger salamander Specialist species are more likely to suffer from habitat loss and disruption than generalist species. As a result, many specialist species are becoming threatened, endangered, and extinct due to human activities. In contrast, generalist species are becoming more common. Raccoons are often considered a nuisance animal due to their ability to find shelter and food close to and sometimes in human homes and buildings.

Adaptations: Competition