Cultural Niche Construction: An Introduction

Kevin N. Laland*, Michael J. O’Brien

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

187 Citations (Scopus)


Niche construction is the process whereby organisms, through their activities and choices, modify their own and each other’s niches. By transforming natural-selection pressures, niche construction generates feedback in evolution at various different levels. Niche-constructing species play important ecological roles by creating habitats and resources used by other species and thereby affecting the flow of energy and matter through ecosystems—a process often referred to as “ecosystem engineering.” An important emphasis of niche construction theory (NCT) is that acquired characters play an evolutionary role through transforming selective environments. This is particularly relevant to human evolution, where our species has engaged in extensive environmental modification through cultural practices. Humans can construct developmental environments that feed back to affect how individuals learn and develop and the diseases to which they are exposed. Here we provide an introduction to NCT and illustrate some of its more important implications for the human sciences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-202
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Theory
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011


  • Cultural inheritance
  • Cultural niche construction
  • Eco-evolutionary dynamics
  • Ecological inheritance
  • Legacy effects
  • Niche construction


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