Human Ecology

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 71–85 | Cite as

The niche concept: Suggestions for its use in human ecology

  • Donald L. Hardesty


The Hutchinsonian concept of the ecological niche can be made operational for studies in human ecology by defining it in terms of thedistinctive ways of using resources for subsistence that set “cultural species” apart. Subsistence variety, the number of resources used for subsistence, and how much each is depended on are measures of distinctiveness, and the amount of variety present can be defined as thewidth of the ecological niche. The calculation of niche width from subsistence data is discussed, and examples are given from several human groups with reference to total resource variety, resource variety in space, and resource variety in time. The importance of selecting niche dimensions for niche width measurement is stressed, and examples are given of width differences resulting from measuring variety in quantity (biomass or calories) and variety in quality (protein, essential minerals, etc.). Finally, some implications of niche width measurements for human ecology are discussed.

Key words

niche subsistence ecology seasonality 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alkire, W. H. (1965).Lamotrek Atoll and Inter-Island Socioeconomic Ties, Studies in Anthropology, No. 5, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Ill.Google Scholar
  2. Aschmann, H. (1959).The Central Desert of Baja California: Demography and Ecology, Ibero-Americana, Berkeley and Los Angeles, No. 42.Google Scholar
  3. Boserup, E. (1965).The Conditions of Agricultural Growth, Aldine, Chicago.Google Scholar
  4. Chagnon, N. (1968).Yanomamo: The Fierce People, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.Google Scholar
  5. Coe, M. D., and Flannery, K. V. (1964). Microenvironments and Mesoamerican prehistory.Science 143: 650–654.Google Scholar
  6. Colwell, R. H., and Futuyma, D. J. (1971). On the measurement of niche breadth and overlap.Ecology 52(4): 567–576.Google Scholar
  7. Downs, J. (1966).The Two Worlds of the Washo, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.Google Scholar
  8. Dumond, D. (1972). Population growth and political centralization. In Spooner, B. (ed.),Population Growth: Anthropological Implications, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., pp. 286–310.Google Scholar
  9. Flannery, K. V. (1968a). Archaeological systems theory and early Mesoamerica. In Meggers, B. (ed.),Anthropological Archaeology in the Americas, Anthropological Society of Washington, Washington, D.C., pp. 67–87.Google Scholar
  10. Flannery, K. (1968b). The ecology of early food production in Mesopotamia.Science 147: 1247–1256.Google Scholar
  11. Flannery, K. (1969). Origins and ecological effects of early domestication in Iran and the Near East. In Ucko, P. J., and Dimbleby, G. W. (eds.),The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals, Aldine, Chicago, pp. 73–100.Google Scholar
  12. Hardesty, D. L. (1972). The human ecological niche.American Anthropologist 74(3): 458–466.Google Scholar
  13. Hardin, G. (1960). The competitive exclusion principle.Science 131: 1291–1297.Google Scholar
  14. Hawley, A. (1973). Ecology and populations.Science 179: 1196–1201.Google Scholar
  15. Hutchinson, G. E. (1957). Concluding remarks.Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology 22: 415–427.Google Scholar
  16. Hutchinson, G. E. (1965).The Ecological Theater and the Evolutionary Play, Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  17. Jordon, C. F. (1971). A world pattern in plant energetics.American Scientist 59(4): 425–433.Google Scholar
  18. Kemp, W. B. (1971). The flow of energy in a hunting society.Scientific American 224(3): 104–115.Google Scholar
  19. Klein, R. G. (1969).Man and Culture in the Late Pleistocene, Chandler, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  20. Klopfer, P. H. (1971).Behavioral Aspects of Ecology, 2nd ed., Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.Google Scholar
  21. Knudson, K. E. (1970). Resource fluctuation, productivity, and social organization on Micronesian coral islands. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Oregon.Google Scholar
  22. Lee, R. (1968). What hunters do for a living, or how to make out on scarce resources. In Lee, R. B., and DeVore, I. (eds.),Man the Hunter, Aldine, Chicago, pp. 30–48.Google Scholar
  23. Lee, R. B., and DeVore, I. (eds.) (1968).Man the Hunter, Aldine, Chicago.Google Scholar
  24. Levins, R. (1968).Evolution in Changing Environments, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.Google Scholar
  25. MacArthur, R. (1968). The theory of the niche. In Lewontin, R. C. (ed.),Population Biology and Evolution, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, N.Y., pp. 159–176.Google Scholar
  26. MacNeish, R. (1964). Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations.Science 143: 531–537.Google Scholar
  27. Margalef, R. (1968).Perspectives in Ecological Theory, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  28. Neale, W. C. (1957). Reciprocity and redistribution in the Indian village: Sequel to some notable discussions. In Polanyi, K., Arensberg, C. M., and Pearson, H. W. (eds.),Trade and Market in the Early Empires, Free Press, Glencoe, Ill., pp. 218–236.Google Scholar
  29. Nietschmann, B. (1973).Between Land and Water, The Subsistence Ecology of the Misquito Indians, Eastern Nicaragua, Seminar Press, New York.Google Scholar
  30. Odum, E. (1971).Fundamentals of Ecology, 3rd ed., Saunders, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  31. Oswalt, W. H. (1973).Habitat and Technology: The Evolution of Hunting, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.Google Scholar
  32. Piddocke, S. (1965). The potlatch system of the Southern Kwakiutl: A new perspective.Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 21: 244–264.Google Scholar
  33. Pospisil, L. (1963).Kapauku Papuan Economy, Yale University Publications in Anthropology, No. 67, Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  34. Rappaport, R. (1968).Pigs for the Ancestors, Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  35. Rappaport, R. (1971). Nature, culture, and ecological anthropology. In Shapiro, H. (ed.),Man, Culture and Society, rev. ed., Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 237–267.Google Scholar
  36. Rogers, E. S. (1972). The Mistassini Cree. In Bicchieri, M. G. (ed.),Hunters and Gatherers Today, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, pp. 90–137.Google Scholar
  37. Roughgarden, J. (1972). Evolution of niche width.American Naturalist 106: 683–718.Google Scholar
  38. Silberbauer, G. B. (1972). The Gwi Bushmen. In Bicchieri, M. G. (ed.),Hunters and Gatherers Today, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, pp. 271–326.Google Scholar
  39. Steward, J. H. (1938).Basin-Plateau Aboriginal Sociopolitical Groups, Bulletin 120, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  40. Vandermeer, J. H. (1972). Niche theory.Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 3: 107–132.Google Scholar
  41. Vayda, A., and Rappaport, R. (1968). Ecology, cultural and non-cultural. In Clifton, J. (ed.),Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Houghton Mifflin, New York, pp. 477–497.Google Scholar
  42. Wagner, G. (1954).The Bantu of North Kavirondo, Vol. II:Economic Life, Oxford University Press, New York and London.Google Scholar
  43. Whittaker, R. H. (1970).Communities and Ecosystems, Macmillan, New York.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald L. Hardesty
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of NevadaReno

Personalised recommendations