The niche construction perspective: a critical appraisal

Thomas C. Scott-Phillips*, Kevin N. Laland, David M. Shuker, Thomas E. Dickins, Stuart A. West

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

112 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Niche construction refers to the activities of organisms that bring about changes in their environments, many of which are evolutionarily and ecologically consequential. Advocates of niche construction theory (NCT) believe that standard evolutionary theory fails to recognize the full importance of niche construction, and consequently propose a novel view of evolution, in which niche construction and its legacy over time (ecological inheritance) are described as evolutionary processes, equivalent in importance to natural selection. Here, we subject NCT to critical evaluation, in the form of a collaboration between one prominent advocate of NCT, and a team of skeptics. We discuss whether niche construction is an evolutionary process, whether NCT obscures or clarifies how natural selection leads to organismal adaptation, and whether niche construction and natural selection are of equivalent explanatory importance. We also consider whether the literature that promotes NCT overstates the significance of niche construction, whether it is internally coherent, and whether it accurately portrays standard evolutionary theory. Our disagreements reflect a wider dispute within evolutionary theory over whether the neo-Darwinian synthesis is in need of reformulation, as well as different usages of some key terms (e.g., evolutionary process).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1231-1243
Number of pages13
JournalEvolution
Volume68
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2014

Keywords

  • Adaptation
  • Adaptationism
  • Evolution
  • Natural selection
  • Niche
  • Niche construction
  • Evolutionary synthesis
  • Interacting phenotypes
  • Lactase persistence
  • Social interactions
  • Extended phenotype
  • Uncluive fitness
  • Sexual selection
  • Kin selection
  • Evo-devo
  • Consequences

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