Get access

Stitch the niche – a practical philosophy and visual schematic for the niche concept


  • Greg J. McInerny,

    Corresponding author
    1. Computational Ecology and Environmental Science Group, Computational Science Laboratory, Microsoft Research, Cambridge, UK
    • Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Rampal S. Etienne

    1. Community and Conservation Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
    Search for more papers by this author

Correspondence: Greg J. McInerny, Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QD, UK.



By over-focusing on precise definitions, ecology has produced a confused idea of the niche concept. This, our second paper, develops a practical philosophy for the niche that approaches the concept at the correct level of abstraction. We deconstruct the niche into effect and response components and then reconstruct those parts into a general, visual schematic of the niche and ecology. Using this schematic we examine the relationship of particular niche ideas to ecology, and examine the relationship between niche and ecological sub-disciplines, particularly species distribution modelling (SDM). This general description clarifies the duality of the niche concept, as both a facet of species and a facet of environments. Unclear use of these dual concepts can confuse the scientific approach, and our ideas about uncertainty and error. By misclassifying models as concepts, ecology has confused the niche. Our practical philosophy uses the current wealth of ecological and niche ideas as a panoramic view of a general niche concept. We argue that stitching the niche produces a concept that underpins straightforward ecological thinking.