Niche Construction

Niche Construction: The Neglected Process in Evolution (MPB-37)

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 468
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  • Book Info
    Niche Construction
    Book Description:

    The seemingly innocent observation that the activities of organisms bring about changes in environments is so obvious that it seems an unlikely focus for a new line of thinking about evolution. Yet niche construction--as this process of organism-driven environmental modification is known--has hidden complexities. By transforming biotic and abiotic sources of natural selection in external environments, niche construction generates feedback in evolution on a scale hitherto underestimated--and in a manner that transforms the evolutionary dynamic. It also plays a critical role in ecology, supporting ecosystem engineering and influencing the flow of energy and nutrients through ecosystems. Despite this, niche construction has been given short shrift in theoretical biology, in part because it cannot be fully understood within the framework of standard evolutionary theory.

    Wedding evolution and ecology, this book extends evolutionary theory by formally including niche construction and ecological inheritance as additional evolutionary processes. The authors support their historic move with empirical data, theoretical population genetics, and conceptual models. They also describe new research methods capable of testing the theory. They demonstrate how their theory can resolve long-standing problems in ecology, particularly by advancing the sorely needed synthesis of ecology and evolution, and how it offers an evolutionary basis for the human sciences.

    Already hailed as a pioneering work by some of the world's most influential biologists, this is a rare, potentially field-changing contribution to the biological sciences.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4726-6
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    JOS, KNL and MWF
  6. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-35)

    Organisms play two roles in evolution. The first consists of carrying genes; organisms survive and reproduce according to chance and natural selection pressures in their environments. This role is the basis for most evolutionary theory, it has been subject to intense qualitative and quantitative investigation, and it is reasonably well understood. However, organisms also interact with environments, take energy and resources from environments, make micro- and macrohabitat choices with respect to environments, construct artifacts, emit detritus and die in environments, and by doing all these things, modify at least some of the natural selection pressures present in their own, and...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Evidence for Niche Construction
    (pp. 36-115)

    A basic feature of living organisms is that they take in and assimilate materials for growth and maintenance and eliminate or excrete waste products. It follows that, merely by existing, organisms must change their local environments to some degree. Niche construction is not the exclusive prerogative of large populations, keystone species, or clever animals; it is a fact of life.

    That organisms engage in niche construction is beyond dispute, but whether this niche construction makes any substantive difference to the world in which they live, or to ecological and evolutionary processes, is open to debate. If the influence that organisms...

  8. CHAPTER 3 A Theoretical Investigation of the Evolutionary Consequences of Niche Construction
    (pp. 116-166)

    We have seen how organisms partly construct their own niches, modifying their environments to an extent that is often nontrivial, and that this niche construction can modify selection pressures. Empirical data support our claim that niche construction is likely to change the nature of the evolutionary process. Even if they are not always aware of the extent, breadth, or scale of niche construction, ecologists and population geneticists are conscious that at least some organisms construct important components of their niches, at least some of the time. Yet, despite this, niche construction is not yet widely recognized as an important evolutionary...

  9. CHAPTER 4 General Qualitative Characteristics of Niche Construction
    (pp. 167-193)

    Before exploring the implications for ecosystem-level ecology of an evolutionary theory that incorporates niche construction, it is important to address some general qualitative characteristics of niche construction. This will bring into focus the inevitable environmental consequences of this evolutionary process and set the scene for our discussion of its ecological repercussions in chapter 5.

    Evolutionary biology is concerned with the complexity and diversity of living organisms, the history of this diversity, and the reasons for its change over time. Standard evolutionary theory explains the observed structure and behavior of organisms as consequences of historical contingency, chance events, and natural selection...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Niche Construction and Ecology
    (pp. 194-238)

    In the previous chapter we established two fundamental points relevant to the ecological consequences of niche construction. The first is that if there are general qualitative characteristics of niche construction then it follows that the evolutionary process must have general and characteristic impacts on the local environments of evolving species. This raises the possibility that niche construction may have implications for ecosystem-level ecology and that a niche-construction perspective may shed light on problems traditionally considered within the domain of ecology. In a sense this much is already proven, as we have only to equate our concept of “niche construction” with...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Human Niche Construction, Learning, and Cultural Processes
    (pp. 239-281)

    The conventional view of evolution is that, through the action of natural selection, organisms have come to exhibit those characteristics that best enable them to survive and reproduce in their environments. The fact that, in standard evolutionary theory, it is always changes in organisms rather than changes in environments that are held responsible for generating the organism-environment “matching” relationship is made explicit by the term used to describe the process of evolutionary change itself, “adaptation.” Organisms are assumed to adapt to their environments, but environments are not assumed to “adapt” to their organisms. The same term, however, is used to...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Testing Niche Construction 1: Empirical Methods and Predictions for Evolutionary Biology
    (pp. 282-304)

    Chapters 3–6 have used formal and narrative arguments for an extended evolutionary theory that incorporates niche construction and that may produce fundamentally different conclusions from standard evolutionary theory. There should therefore be a set of empirical predictions that would generate data more consistent with such an extended evolutionary theory, and less consistent with the more conventional evolutionary perspective. If niche construction is going to be a valuable extension to standard evolutionary theory, it must stimulate useful empirical work.

    In this chapter we describe how our hypotheses concerning the evolutionary role of niche construction might be tested through laboratory and...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Testing Niche Construction 2: Empirical Methods, Theory, and Predictions for Ecology
    (pp. 305-336)

    In chapter 5 we showed how our extended theory of evolution that includes niche construction can apply to ecosystem-level ecology. It does so primarily by allowing abiota, as well as biota, to be more readily incorporated into evolutionary models. This has the effect of lifting a restriction which, until now, has largely confined the use of evolution by ecologists to the population-community approach, while simultaneously preventing its use by process-functional ecologists (Holt 1995).

    In this chapter we describe how our hypotheses concerning the implications of niche construction for ecosystem-level ecology can be tested with laboratory and field experiments and theoretical...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Testing Niche Construction 3: Empirical Methods and Predictions for the Human Sciences
    (pp. 337-369)

    Human cultural processes are exceptionally potent compared to protocultural processes in other animals, perhaps because of the more cumulative nature of human culture relative to the traditions of other animal species (see below). In chapter 6 we presented two gene-culture coevolutionary models that showed how cultural niche construction could modify natural selection. These models therefore raise the possibility that human evolution may be unique in this respect. Human cultural niche construction is also potent relative to the non-cultural means by which humans construct niches. For these reasons, even though not all human niche construction is cultural (fig. 6.2), we focus...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Extended Evolutionary Theory
    (pp. 370-386)

    There are two ways of thinking about niche construction in evolution. One is very familiar; everyone with an interest in natural history knows that organisms possess adaptations that allow them to choose and construct aspects of their worlds. Niche construction is a widely recognized product of evolution. However, in this book we have invited the reader to think about niche construction differently by regarding it not as just a product of evolution, but as a co-contributor, with natural selection, to the evolutionary process itself. From this perspective, niche construction is more than just the expression of adaptations, it is a...

  16. APPENDIX 1: Model 1a: A Simple Model of Niche Construction for Diploids
    (pp. 387-403)
  17. APPENDIX 2: Model 1b: A Simple Model of Niche Construction for Haplodiploids or Sex-Linked Loci
    (pp. 404-407)
  18. APPENDIX 3: Model 2: An Extended Model of Niche Construction
    (pp. 408-410)
  19. APPENDIX 4: Models 3 and 4: Cultural Niche Construction
    (pp. 411-414)
  20. APPENDIX 5: Model 5: Niche Construction and the Evolution of the Sex Ratio in Hymenoptera
    (pp. 415-418)
  21. Glossary of New Terms
    (pp. 419-420)
  22. Bibliography (indexed)
    (pp. 421-456)
  23. Index
    (pp. 457-472)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 473-474)