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niche constructionNischenkonstruktion (ger.)

  • The definition and production of niches by the organisms utilizing them.  

    [organisms have constructed environments that are the conditions for their further evolution and reconstruction of nature into new environments. Organisms within their individual lifetimes and in the course of their evolution as a species do not adapt to environments; they construct them. They are not simply objects of the laws of nature, altering themselves to bend to the inevitable, but active subjects transforming nature according to its laws.

    Lewontin, R.C. (1982). Organism and environment. In: Plotkin, H.C. (ed.). Learning, Development, and Culture, 151-170: 163.]


    The modifying force that directs genetic inheritance is natural selection, but the modifying force that directs ecological inheritance is something else. It comprises the outputs from active organisms to their environments. Henceforth, and following Lewontin’s lead, I shall call this second directing force niche construction (with the proviso that it also implicitly refers to its negative aspect, niche destruction). Like natural selection, niche construction is capable of exerting a directing influence over evolution by modifying evolutionary descent in nonrandom ways. The difference is that it exerts its influence externally via the environment instead of internally via genes.

    Odling-Smee, F.J. (1988). Niche constructing phenotypes. In: Plotkin, H.C. (ed.). The Role of Behaviour in Evolution, 73-132: 80.


    Organisms, through their metabolism, their activities, and their choices, define, partly create, and partly destroy their own niches. We refer to these phenomena as “niche construction.”

    Odling-Smee, F.J. Laland, K.N. & Feldman, M.W. (1996). Niche construction. Amer. Nat. 147, 641-648: 641.