An organism’s habitat is the range of environmental conditions which are tolerable. Whereas organisms which adapt to specific niches are specialists, generalists have more tolerance.
Specialists make the most of their habitat. Generalists fare better during rapid environmental changes, but there are fewer species of them. Owing to their inherent adaptability, generalists are less prone to speciation.
Climate is a major determinant of habitat for both plants and animals. “Plants and animals have similar responses to climate change,” observes American ecologist John Wiens. “Despite the fundamental differences in their biology, there are general ‘rules’ of climatic-niche evolution that span plants and animals.”
“Climatic niches seem to evolve at similar rates in plant and animal populations, with similar frequencies of climate-related local extinctions,” continues Wiens.
It appears easier to adaptively compensate for cold than heat. “Physiological tolerances to heat evolve more slowly than those to cold in both plants and animals. Heat freezes niche evolution,” elaborates Wien.
Whereas rainfall varies more in the tropics than temperature, the reverse is found in temperate climates. Accordingly, flora and fauna adaptively tolerate wider variations in either temperature or precipitation depending on where they live. In both plants and animals, temperature tolerance is wider at higher latitudes (in temperate biomes), whereas precipitation-related tolerance is greater in the tropics (lower latitudes).
Hui Liu, Qing Ye & John J. Wiens, “Climatic-niche evolution follows similar rules in plants and animals,” Nature Ecology & Evolution (23 March 2020).
“Plants and animals aren’t so different when it comes to climate,” ScienceDaily (24 March 2020).