The niche construction perspective : a critical appraisal
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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).
Scott-Phillips , T C , Laland , K N , Shuker , D M , Dickins , T E & West , S A 2014 , ' The niche construction perspective : a critical appraisal ' Evolution , vol 68 , no. 5 , pp. 1231-1243 . DOI: 10.1111/evo.12332
© 2013 The Author(s). Evolution published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of The Society for the Study of Evolution. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
For financial support, the authors thank Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, The Economic and Social Research Council, The Natural Environment Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust, the European Research Council, and the Royal Society.