Niche construction affects the variability and strength of natural selection

Andrew D. Clark, Dominik Deffner, Kevin Laland*, John Odling-Smee, John Endler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Consideration of the properties of the sources of selection potentially helps biologists account for variation in selection. Here we explore how the variability of natural selection is affected by organisms that regulate the experienced environment through their activities (whether by constructing components of their local environments, such as nests, burrows, or pupal cases, or by choosing suitable resources). Specifically, we test the predictions that organism-constructed sources of selection that buffer environmental variation will result in (i) reduced variation in selection gradients, including reduced variation between (a) years (temporal variation) and (b) locations (spatial variation), and (ii) weaker directional selection relative to nonconstructed sources. Using compiled data sets of 1,045 temporally replicated selection gradients, 257 spatially replicated selection gradients, and a pooled data set of 1,230 selection gradients, we find compelling evidence for reduced temporal variation and weaker selection in response to constructed compared to nonconstructed sources of selection and some evidence for reduced spatial variation in selection. These findings, which remained robust to alternative data sets, taxa, analytical methods, definitions of constructed/nonconstructed, and other tests of reliability, suggest that organism-manufactured or chosen components of environments may have qualitatively different properties from other environmental features.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-30
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number1
Early online date6 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Natural selection
  • Niche construction
  • Selection gradients
  • Spatial
  • Strength of selection
  • Temporal


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