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Unformatted text preview: 1751 2006 The Society for the Study of Evolution. All rights reserved. EVOLUTION INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ORGANIC EVOLUTION PUBLISHED BY THE SOCIETY FOR THE STUDY OF EVOLUTION Vol. 60 September 2006 No. 9 Evolution, 60(9), 2006, pp. 17511762 PERSPECTIVE: SEVEN REASONS (NOT) TO NEGLECT NICHE CONSTRUCTION K EVIN N. L ALAND 1 AND K IM S TERELNY 2 1 Centre for Evolution, Genes, and Genomics, School of Biology, St. Andrews University, Fife, KY16 9TS, United Kingdom E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 2 Department of Philosophy, Victoria University of Wellington and The Australian National University, PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand E-mail: email@example.com Abstract. The niche-construction perspective within evolutionary biology places emphasis on the changes that or- ganisms bring about in their selective environments. Advocates of this viewpoint argue that there is both accuracy and utility in treating niche construction as an evolutionary process in its own right, rather than merely as a product of evolution. Here we discuss and assess seven putative weaknesses of the niche-construction perspective. Niche construction has been neglected or rejected on the grounds that (1) it is not prevalent, (2) its study is not tractable, (3) it is not a process, (4) it is caused by natural selection, (5) it does not change our understanding of evolution in any fundamental way, (6) it does not bring about adaptation, and (7) it is not a single phenomenon. In each case, we critically evaluate the theoretical standing of these arguments and consider the empirical evidence that can be brought to bear on the debate. We conclude that none of these are strong criticisms of the niche-construction perspective and maintain that there are compelling reasons for treating niche construction as a major evolutionary process. Key words. Adaptation, ecological inheritance, evolution, extended phenotype, inheritance, niche construction. Received October 11, 2005. Accepted June 19, 2006. T HE N ICHE C ONSTRUCTION P ERSPECTIVE The niche-construction perspective was introduced to evo- lutionary biology in the 1980s through a series of seminal essays by Richard Lewontin (1982, 1983, 2000), and has gathered momentum over recent years (Brandon and Anto- novics 1996; Laland et al. 1996, 1999, 2001; Odling-Smee et al. 1996, 2003; Odling-Smee 1988; Oyama et al. 2001; Lewens 2003; Sterelny 2003; Boni and Feldman 2005; Do- nohue 2005). Niche construction is the process whereby or- ganisms, through their metabolism, their activities, and their choices, modify their own and/or others niches (Odling- Smee et al. 2003). For instance, numerous animals manu- facture nests, burrows, holes, webs, and pupal cases; plants change levels of atmospheric gases and modify nutrient cy- cles; fungi and bacteria decompose organic matter; bacteria fix nutrients (for a review of this literature, see Odling-Smee et al. 2003). However, the defining characteristic of niche construction is not organism-driven modification of the en-...
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