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Keywords:

  • Dispersal;
  • habitat specific demography;
  • Hutchinsonian n-dimensional niche;
  • species distributions

Applications of Hutchinson’s n-dimensional niche concept are often focused on the role of interspecific competition in shaping species distribution patterns. In this paper, I discuss a variety of factors, in addition to competition, that influence the observed relationship between species distribution and the availability of suitable habitat. In particular, I show that Hutchinson’s niche concept can be modified to incorporate the influences of niche width, habitat availability and dispersal, as well as interspecific competition per se. I introduce a simulation model called NICHE that embodies many of Hutchinson’s original niche concepts and use this model to predict patterns of species distribution. The model may help to clarify how dispersal, niche size and competition interact, and under what conditions species might be common in unsuitable habitat or absent from suitable habitat. A brief review of the pertinent literature suggests that species are often absent from suitable habitat and present in unsuitable habitat, in ways predicted by theory. However, most tests of niche theory are hampered by inadequate consideration of what does and does not constitute suitable habitat. More conclusive evidence for these predictions will require rigorous determination of habitat suitability under field conditions. I suggest that to do this, ecologists must measure habitat specific demography and quantify how demographic parameters vary in response to temporal and spatial variation in measurable niche dimensions.