Ecological Niches Linking Classical and Contemporary Approaches
by Jonathan M. Chase and Mathew A. Leibold
University of Chicago Press, 2003
Cloth: 978-0-226-10179-8 | Paper: 978-0-226-10180-4 | Electronic: 978-0-226-10181-1
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Why do species live where they live? What determines the abundance and diversity of species in a given area? What role do species play in the functioning of entire ecosystems? All of these questions share a single core concept—the ecological niche. Although the niche concept has fallen into disfavor among ecologists in recent years, Jonathan M. Chase and Mathew A. Leibold argue that the niche is an ideal tool with which to unify disparate research and theoretical approaches in contemporary ecology.

Chase and Leibold define the niche as including both what an organism needs from its environment and how that organism's activities shape its environment. Drawing on the theory of consumer-resource interactions, as well as its graphical analysis, they develop a framework for understanding niches that is flexible enough to include a variety of small- and large-scale processes, from resource competition, predation, and stress to community structure, biodiversity, and ecosystem function. Chase and Leibold's synthetic approach will interest ecologists from a wide range of subdisciplines.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Jonathan M. Chase is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Washington University.

Mathew A. Leibold is an associate professor of integrative biology at The University of Texas at Austin, and was formerly associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at The University of Chicago.

REVIEWS

“[The premise of] Ecological Niches, by Chase and Liebold, is that the niche is the nexus of evolution, population, community, and ecosystem ecology, and that the world according to a niche-based theory provides a powerful, mechanistic, predictive framework for understanding nature.”
— Trends in Ecology and Evolution


“[The authors] develop a framework for understanding niches that is flexible enough to include a variety of small- and large-scale processes, from resource competition, predation, and stress, to community structure, biodiversity, and ecosystem function. Chase and Leibold’s synthetic approach will interest ecologists from a wide range of subdisciplines.”--Ethology, Ecology, and Evolution
— Ethology, Ecology, and Evolution

“A very good book, which attempts to present and support a new synthetic niche theory. . . . . This book helps to clarify different conceptual positions in ecology and encourage new and better research. . . . I recommend this book to any person interested in the current state of ecological theory.”
— Plant Systematics and Evolution

“In this thought-provoking book, Chase and Leibold highlight how a clear understanding of the duality of the niche helps to clarify a wide variety of important ecological issues. They use an intuitively appealing graphical approach, which often encapsulates results of more complex analytical models. This book provides one avenue, paving the way towards a revitalization of community ecology.”
— Robert Holt, University of Florida

"Ecological Niches is not directed to historians and philosophers, but to ecologists. Nevertheless, it contains one of the best surveys of the ecological literature pertaining to the niche concept and it represents one of the most valuable arguments for the utility of understanding the conceptual development of scientific ideas."
— Keith R. Benson, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface

- Jonathan M. Chase, Mathew A. Leibold
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226101811.003.0001
[ecological niche, niche concept, ecology]
This introductory chapter first sets out the book's primary objectives: (i) to develop a framework around the niche concept that better accommodates several recent insights about niche relations in ecology; (ii) to use this updated niche framework to point the way to new questions, conclusions, and syntheses; and (iii) to link this interpretation to some of the insights developed using alternative approaches and identify those areas where the greatest challenges for the field of ecology in relation to the niche concept lie. It then presents a brief history of the ecological niche concept, and discusses the concept's downfall and revision. (pages 1 - 18)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jonathan M. Chase, Mathew A. Leibold
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226101811.003.0002
[niche concept, species niche, birth rates, organisms, species interaction, coexistence]
This chapter proposes a quantitative definition of niche that includes a species' requirements from and impacts on a factor. Requirements refer to the conditions where an organism's birth rates exceed its death rates on a particular factor, whereas impact refers to the effect that species has on the factor. The explicit recognition of both requirement and impact components of the niche provides a general framework for understanding the problems of species interaction and coexistence, which form the basis of much ecological inquiry. (pages 19 - 50)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jonathan M. Chase, Mathew A. Leibold
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226101811.003.0003
[niche concept, consumer–resource model, Lotka–Volterra model, niche framework, conventional niche theory]
This chapter, which discusses the similarities and differences between the classical and contemporary approaches to the niche, begins with comparisons between consumer–resource and Lotka–Volterra models. It then describes a revised niche framework that seeks to clarify and resurrect the niche concept in a more quantifiable and biologically meaningful way than the previously loosely associated ideas of the niche. The niche framework is used to illuminate a series of issues from conventional niche theory. (pages 51 - 59)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jonathan M. Chase, Mathew A. Leibold
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226101811.003.0004
[niche concept, empirical studies, niche framework, theoretical models]
This chapter develops an overview of the ways one might use the niche concept as a framework for empirical studies, first discussing ways in which specific details of the models have been tested previously, using examples from the laboratory and field. Second, it discusses ways in which the niche-based framework can serve as a basis for a variety of empirical research programs. Throughout, the chapter develops the view that the utility of models lies not with the direct testability or validity of all of their assumptions and predictions, but with their ability to serve as a springboard for a variety of important insights and syntheses. That is, it is not proposed that this theory needs to be explicitly tested in the way empiricists often test models. Rather, the real value of theoretical models lies in structuring a conceptual view with which to develop and test qualitative hypotheses about the way a particular system is structured. (pages 60 - 74)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jonathan M. Chase, Mathew A. Leibold
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226101811.003.0005
[biological complexity, resource utilization, behavioral plasticity, resource allocation plasticity, demographic structure]
This chapter discusses four types of biological complexity: resource utilization (how interacting species differentially use distinct resource types); behavioral plasticity (variation in a species' behavioral traits in response to environmental, including biotic, conditions); resource allocation plasticity (variation in a species' morphological or physiological traits in response to environmental, including biotic, conditions); and demographic structure (variation in stage, size, and other factors that change with age in a species). It concludes that although there are many different types of biological realisms that characterize natural systems, many of the generalities derived from simpler models can still hold. Further, when complexities do change the nature of the interaction, they do not do so in a fundamentally unpredictable way. (pages 75 - 94)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jonathan M. Chase, Mathew A. Leibold
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226101811.003.0006
[niche framework, niche concept, zero net growth, population dynamics, equilibrium, species interactions, vectors]
This chapter discusses how variability, through both time and space, will influence the predictions of species' interactions within the niche framework. In each case, it considers how the particular complexity influences the shape of the zero net growth isoclines, the impact vectors, or both, and thus how it alters the outcomes of interspecific interactions. (pages 95 - 105)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jonathan M. Chase, Mathew A. Leibold
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226101811.003.0007
[niche concept, community ecology, character displacement, coexistence]
Ecologists have wrestled with a number of methods to study more complex communities, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. This chapter illustrates how the niche concept can contribute. It discusses community-wide character displacement and shows that similar species might often coexist in local communities. Taking this idea further might predict that species with identical niches should often coexist as hypothesized by Hubbell (2001) due to other mechanisms. If species sorting leads to local coexistence of fairly similar species, the selection on these species might favor further convergence in species characters. Such convergence will be a delicate process because it must happen without having either species benefit too much relative to the other (otherwise exclusion might ensue). Further, convergence of species may be affected by different overall constraints (e.g., design constraints). This would indicate that convergence might be more likely among closely related species that would be less subject to those sorts of constraints. (pages 106 - 122)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jonathan M. Chase, Mathew A. Leibold
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226101811.003.0008
[niche concept, species sorting, community ecology, species composition, species diversity]
This chapter uses the species sorting process discussed in Chapter 7 to illuminate several processes of interest to community ecologists. Specifically, it discusses how species composition varies among sites through succession and assembly, and how patterns of diversity respond to important environmental gradients such as disturbance and productivity. (pages 123 - 143)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jonathan M. Chase, Mathew A. Leibold
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226101811.003.0009
[niche concept, reciprocal effects, community, biodiversity, ecosystem function, ecosystem stability, species sorting]
Ecosystem functioning involves more than just species interactions. There is a huge array of biogeochemical processes and of landscape-level exchanges that are not easily addressed using a niche-based approach. This chapter shows how the processes of species sorting at the community level can profoundly influence patterns of ecosystem functioning. It discusses the short-term effects of biodiversity on ecosystem function and the longer-term effects of biodiversity on ecosystem stability in the face of perturbations, exploring how the process of species sorting might influence the results of ecosystem perturbations in the short and long terms. (pages 144 - 160)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jonathan M. Chase, Mathew A. Leibold
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226101811.003.0010
[niche concept, niche-based approach, individual traits, evolution, environment, population, ecosystems]
This chapter discusses how a niche-based approach can allow a direct exploration into a variety of factors that may influence the evolution of an individual's traits—such as exploring how changes in environmental conditions (e.g., resource supply), interacting species, or other factors can influence the traits of an organism. For this reason, the predictions that can be made from a mechanistic, niche-based framework can provide a significantly more powerful framework than those that do not explicitly consider the link between evolution; the biotic and abiotic environment; and populations, communities, and ecosystems. (pages 161 - 173)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jonathan M. Chase, Mathew A. Leibold
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226101811.003.0011
[niche concept, niche framework, ecology]
This concluding chapter begins with a discussion of what the niche framework presented in this book does for ecology, considering the limitations of the niche framework and then comparing niche and neutral theory. It argues that the niche framework can bring together the diverse theoretical and statistical tools being developed in the field of ecology, and can serve as the foundation for ecological studies. (pages 174 - 180)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Literature cited

Index