Main Difference Between a Population and a Community

, Staff Writer
Updated January 7, 2021
difference population and community African animals
    population and community difference
    lions: Ozkan Ozmen / Moment , population: ugurhan / E+
    Used under Getty Images license

The terms "population" and "community" are frequently used in the field of Biology. As a result, students often wonder, "What is the difference between a population and a community?" Discover what each term means and how they differ, as well as the roles they play in the larger context of ecosystems.

Population vs. Community

It's important for science students to understand how populations and communities differ from one another.

What Is a Population?

In biological terms, the word population refers to all of the organisms from the same species that live together in the same general geographic area, which is called a habitat. Organisms within the same population share a gene pool, but are not necessarily closely related.

For example, a population is not as narrow as a specific pride of lions. Instead, it could be all of the lions that live within a certain region, such as a particular forest or preserve.

What Is a Community?

The word community refers to multiple populations. It describes the various populations that share a habitat at the same time. Because communities consist of multiple populations, there are multiple species and gene pools within a community.

For example, the community of the forest or preserve would consist not only of the population of lions that lives there, but also the populations of other big cats, antelopes, zebras, and other organisms existing within the same space.

How Do Populations and Communities Differ?

Communities differ from populations in several ways.

  • size - A community is larger than a population.
  • diversity - A community is more diverse than a population.
  • gene flow - Gene flow can occur within communities, but only interbreeding can take place within a population.
  • structure - The structure of organisms in a population is similar, while dissimilar structures exist within a community.
  • behavior - Organisms in a population tend to behave in a similar manner, and there is less behavioral similarity in a population.
  • predators - There are no natural predators within a population, but predator/prey relationships exist within communities.

Similarities Between Populations and Communities

Even though populations and communities differ in several ways, there are some similarities. Populations and communities alike:

  • consist of living organisms
  • coexist within the same geographic region
  • live in similar environmental conditions
  • have a life cycle (meaning that all organisms are born and die)
  • exist within the context of an ecosystem

Ecosystems: A Larger Context

For a broader perspective on populations and communities, take the time to learn about ecosystems, as they are the context in which populations and communities exist. An ecosystem is a community of organisms that interact with one another and the environment (habitat) in which they exist. Ecosystems include biotic (living) factors, such as plants and animals. They also include abiotic (nonliving) substances, such as air, dirt or water.

Review some natural ecosystem examples in Biology for additional insights into how populations and communities differ from one another, as well as a deeper understanding of their role in the natural world.


Learn More About the Natural World

It's important for people to understand how populations and communities join together within habitats to form ecosystems. This knowledge is essential in developing a foundational understanding of how living organisms coexist and interact with one another in the world around you.

Start building a solid understanding of life science by learning key characteristics of living things. From there, explore how scientists use a taxonomy to classify living things. Next, study some of the many species examples in the plant and animal kingdoms. Build on what you learn by exploring some keystone species examples. You'll be on your way to becoming very knowledgeable about the field of science and how it relates to the natural world.