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Niche Construction: The Neglected Process in Evolution (MPB-37) (Monographs in Population Biology) [Hardcover]

F. John Odling-Smee , Kevin N. Laland , Marcus W. Feldman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 22, 2003 0691044384 978-0691044385

The seemingly innocent observation that the activities of organisms bring about changes in environments is so obvious that it seems an unlikely focus for a new line of thinking about evolution. Yet niche construction--as this process of organism-driven environmental modification is known--has hidden complexities. By transforming biotic and abiotic sources of natural selection in external environments, niche construction generates feedback in evolution on a scale hitherto underestimated--and in a manner that transforms the evolutionary dynamic. It also plays a critical role in ecology, supporting ecosystem engineering and influencing the flow of energy and nutrients through ecosystems. Despite this, niche construction has been given short shrift in theoretical biology, in part because it cannot be fully understood within the framework of standard evolutionary theory.

Wedding evolution and ecology, this book extends evolutionary theory by formally including niche construction and ecological inheritance as additional evolutionary processes. The authors support their historic move with empirical data, theoretical population genetics, and conceptual models. They also describe new research methods capable of testing the theory. They demonstrate how their theory can resolve long-standing problems in ecology, particularly by advancing the sorely needed synthesis of ecology and evolution, and how it offers an evolutionary basis for the human sciences.

Already hailed as a pioneering work by some of the world's most influential biologists, this is a rare, potentially field-changing contribution to the biological sciences.

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Editorial Reviews


"In Niche Construction, Odling-Smee et al extend the Darwinian approach to provide a systemic framework for thinking about how environments are modified by organisms and the extent to which these constructed environments influence the evolution of other species."--David Krakauer, Times Higher Education Supplement

"Niche construction takes off from standard population genetics theory, but reinvents both the niche and evolutionary theory in ways that require a revolutionary re-thinking of ecological and evolutionary dynamics. . . . A brief review cannot do justice to the excitement that [the authors] generate with their ideas. The relatively simple observation that at least some, if not most organisms modify their environment is shown by [them] to have dramatic consequences for our understanding of evolution by natural selection."--Aaron M. Ellison, Ecology

"A marvelous achievement. . . . [The authors] present a sustained, rigorous, and highly original argument for the extended evolutionary theory they advocate, that blends theoretical, empirical and philosophical considerations in a most impressive way."--Samir Okasha, Biology and Philosophy

From the Inside Flap

"We humans are increasingly aware of the way our activities are altering our environment. We rarely reflect, however, that the entire evolutionary history of life on earth is written essentially in terms of organism' modification of their environment, and responses to the subsequent changes. This book is a wonderful exploration of this strangely neglected topic, opening new vistas on how organisms--including humans--construct ecological niches over evolutionary time. After developing a basic theoretical framework, the authors first indicate applications of these new ideas to evolutionary biology, to ecology, and to the human sciences. They even risk some testable predictions. I think this book is a 'must read.'"--Robert M. May, University of Oxford

"There has been a growing understanding in biology that organisms do not simply 'adapt' to preexisting environments, but that they actively change and construct the world in which they live. Not until Niche Construction, however, has that understanding been turned into a coherent structure that brings together the observations about natural history and an exact dynamical theory. The sobriquet, 'landmark' is casually used to press the virtues of books, but seldom can it be taken seriously, Niche Construction really is a landmark book."--Richard Lewontin, Harvard University

"If the amount of attention warranted by this book is paid to it, the result should be a massive reorientation of evolutionary theory."--David Hull, Northwestern University

"This ambitious book tackles a problem of fundamental importance in science: the whole-hearted synthesis of the disciplines of ecology and evolution. The marriage of these two has often been announced, but the consummation of the union is long overdue."--Robert D. Holt, University of Florida

"Organisms are affected by the world in which they live but also influence that world. Importantly, they may play an active role in constructing the ecological niche into which they fit. This construction process inevitably affects the evolution of their descendants. Odling-Smee, Laland, and Feldman have provided the first full-length treatment of an intensely absorbing topic which deserves the close attention of anybody interested in evolution."--Patrick Bateson, The Provost's Lodge, King's College, Cambridge

Product Details

  • Series: Monographs in Population Biology
  • Hardcover: 488 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (July 22, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691044384
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691044385
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,645,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful addition to evolutionary theory May 28, 2007
One of the best books I've read on evolutionary processes.

The authors are well place in the academic community. John Odling-Smee (Oxford University), Kevin Laland (St. Andrews University) and Marc Feldman (Stanford University) argue that the ability of organisms to construct habitat which subsequently alters evolutionary pressures upon the constructing organism's gene pool represents a curiously unexplored evolutionary mechanism. They call the process 'niche construction'.

To quote the cover jacket, "Niche construction is the process whereby organisms, through their activities and choices, modify their own and each other's niches. By transforming natural selection pressures, niche construction generates feedback in evolution, on a scale hitherto underestimated, and in a manner that alters the evolutionary dynamic. Niche construction also plays a critical role in ecology, where it supports ecosystem engineering and part regulates the flow of energy and nutrients through ecosystems."

The authors argue that classic evolutionary theory lost sight of 'niche construction', favoring an exclusive interest in genetic inheritance and reproduction dynamics (natural selection). Traditionally, scientists have argued that evolution is entirely random and blind to any consequences of genetic mutation. In other words, evolution is not self-referential, the choices of the reproducing individuals have no impact on selection pressures.

The authors vigorously argue against this simplistic model. They argue that niche construction is a fundamental evolutionary process in its own right. In this way individuals offer two legacies to their decendants, their genes and an ecological setting.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paradigm changer? September 10, 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book has to be The Book on niche construction, the tendency of organisms to change their local environments to their advantage. The first half is for any reader who is interested in the topic from any angle - its widespread occurrence, examples from all kingdoms, its origin, its evolutionary significance for species including other species. The second half frames questions to experimenters interested in testing evolutionary repercussions of the phenomenon. The tie to human cultural activities (the heavy niche constructers) is also explored as the team of authors includes specialists on this topic. In these exciting times for biology and evolutionary theory, this book marks a bold new direction that opens the door to evolution through the environment. An eye opener.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read September 13, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I suspect this will be a classic text for years to come. This is a must-read for students of evolutionary theory, especially those who also study anthropology and/or archaeology.
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