Ecological niche conservatism: a time-structured review of evidence


A. Townsend Peterson, Biodiversity Institute, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA.


Aim  To evaluate the evolutionary conservatism of coarse-resolution Grinnellian (or scenopoetic) ecological niches.

Location  Global.

Methods  I review a broad swathe of literature relevant to the topic of niche conservatism or differentiation, and illustrate some of the resulting insights with examplar analyses.

Results  Ecological niche characteristics are highly conserved over short-to-moderate time spans (i.e. from individual life spans up to tens or hundreds of thousands of years); little or no ecological niche differentiation is discernible as part of the processes of invasion or speciation.

Main conclusions  Although niche conservatism is widespread, many methodological complications obscure this point. In particular, niche models are frequently over-interpreted: too often, they are based on limited occurrence data in high-dimensional environmental spaces, and cannot be interpreted robustly to indicate niche differentiation.