Niche construction in the light of niche theory




Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 82–90


Ecological niche construction, the process whereby an organism improves its environment to enhance its growth and persistence, is an important missing element of niche theory. Niche theory has mainly focused on niche-deteriorating processes, such as resource consumption, predation and competition, which have negative effects on population growth. Here, we integrate niche construction explicitly into modern niche theory. We use a graphical approach to analyse how a species’ niche-improving impacts interplay with niche-deteriorating impacts to modify its response to the environment. In a model of two consumers that compete for one limiting resource and one predator, we show how niche construction modifies the traditional niche-deteriorating impacts of its agent or of competing species, and hence the potential for species coexistence. By altering the balance between intraspecific and interspecific competitive effects, niche construction can either generate net interspecific facilitation or strengthen interspecific competition. The adaptive benefit derived from niche construction also strongly affects the realized niche of a niche-constructing species.