Niche Construction Article D

Niche Construction Article D - Developmental Niche...

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Developmental Niche Construction: an integrative causal factor in evolution (Commentary on Pigliucci and Kaplan’s Making Sense of Evolution) Karola Stotz 1. Introduction Pigliucci and Kaplan’s rather critical evaluation of contemporary evolutionary biology starts with making a very useful and necessary distinction three levels of analysis of evolutionary processes, the individual, population and ensemble level. While the first two contain the actual physical, causal processes that lead to and make possible evolution (by natural selection), the latter measures statistical distributions of outcomes. The authors acknowledge and attempt to conceptually integrate several new developments which play an important role to understand causal processes at the first two levels that strengthen the active role (populations of) organisms and their development play in evolution. These accounts are Developmental Systems Theory, which includes and takes serious the idea of Extended Inheritance, a variety of accounts that run under the heading of Evo-Devo, Eco-Devo and Devo-Evo, Phenotypic Plasticity including mechanism such as genetic accommodation and assimilation, and Niche Construction. This review extends the authors’ treatment of what kind of questions evolutionary biology is concerned with and which kind of answers would provide their explanations. Evolutonary biology should explain “ the origin, spread, and maintenance of phenotypic traits, as well as the developmental pathways that reliably (re)produce them” (Pigliucci and Kaplan 2007, 112). I want to draw attention to the developmental niche and its active construction through (populations of) organisms and their parental generation, a process which has been first been described by Meredith West and Andrew King in 1987, a year earlier than the first publication about the process of niche construction by Odling-Smee
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(West and King 1987; Odling-Smee 1988). While niche construction has since then almost become a household name in evolutionary theory, not so the idea of the developmental niche. The importance of the mechanism of ontogenetic niche construction lies in its integrative power: it combines ideas of the active organism altering its environment (niche construction), developmental systems theory and extended (non- or extra-genetic) inheritance, evo-eco-devo and phenotypic plasticity. Because of the role it plays in explanations of all of the above questions its integration into mainstream evolutionary theory will be necessary for the continued refinement of this evolving field. The process of developmental niche construction contributes to explanation of: a) the origin of a trait by introducing new epigenetic resources for variation and innovation beyond mutation and recombination and describing how developmental processes situated in their ecological niche can produce novel phenotypes; b) the spread of a trait by showing in detail how organisms or their parental generation co-construct a selective
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This note was uploaded on 11/09/2010 for the course ANTHRO 111456202 taught by Professor Josephmanson during the Spring '10 term at UCLA.

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Niche Construction Article D - Developmental Niche...

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