Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 6, Issue 5, pp 433–447 | Cite as

Analysis of adaptation in heterogeneous landscapes: Implications for the evolution of fundamental niches

  • Robert D. Holt
  • Michael S. Gaines


The fundamental niche is a description of the range of environmental conditions in which the mean fitness of a population exceeds or equals unity, and outside of which its mean fitness is less than one. The fundamental niche is a mean phenotype of a population, a trait that can evolve by natural selection. In the analysis of the evolution of adaptations by natural selection one must specify the range of environments within which the relative fitnesses of alternative phenotypes are compared. Population dynamics automatically biases the environments experienced by an evolutionary lineage, simply because more individuals tend to be found within the fundamental niche than outside it (unless the population as a whole is going extinct). We argue that this basic asymmetry biases adaptive evolution toward further improvement to conditions inside the fundamental niche, even at the expense of fitness outside it. This suggests that natural selection may act principally as a conservative force on fundamental niches. We place the particular problem of the evolution of fundamental niches into the general framework of specifying the spatiotemporal scale for the analysis of adaptation in heterogeneous environments and introduce the notion of a ‘phylogenetic envelope’, a heuristic representation of this scaling. Because all of microevolution necessarily occurs within the constraint of the evolutionary dynamics of the fundamental niche, we conclude that understanding such dynamics should be of central concern to evolutionary ecologists.


fundamental niche adaptation spatial scale conservative evolution stasis 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Antonovics, J., Ellstrand, N. C. and Brandon, R. N. (1989) Genetic variation and environmental variation: expectations and experiments. InPlant Evolutionary Biology (L. D. Gottlieb and S. K. Jain, eds) pp. 275–304, Chapman & Hall, London, UK.Google Scholar
  2. Arthur, W. (1987)The Niche in Competition and Evolution. John Wiley, NY, USA.Google Scholar
  3. Brandon, R. N. (1990)Adaptation and Environment. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, USA.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, J. S. and Pavlovic, N. B. (1992) Evolution in heterogeneous environments: effect of migration on habitat specialization.Evol. Ecol. 6, 360–82.Google Scholar
  5. Charlesworth, B. (1987) The heritability of fitness. InSexual Selection: Testing the Alternatives (J. W. Bradbury and M. B. Andersson, eds) pp. 21–40. John Wiley, NY, USA.Google Scholar
  6. Fisher, R. A. (1958)The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. 2nd edition. Dover Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  7. Hartl, D. L. and Clark, A. G. (1989)Principles of Population Genetics. Sinauer, Sunderland, MA, USA.Google Scholar
  8. Holt, R. D. (1985) Population dynamics in two-patch environments; some anomalous consequences of an optimal habitat distribution.Theor. Pop. Biol. 28, 181–208.Google Scholar
  9. Holt, R. D. (1987) Population dynamics and evolutionary processes: the manifold roles of habitat selection.Evol. Ecol. 1, 331–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Holt, R. D. (1990) The microevolutionary consequences of climate change.TREE 5, 311–14.Google Scholar
  11. Holt, R. D. (1992) Ecology at the mesoscale: the effects of regional processes on local communities. To appear inCommunity Diversity (R. Ricklefs and D. Schluter, eds) University of Chicago Press (in press).Google Scholar
  12. Huntley, B., Bartlein, P. J. and Prentice, I. C. (1989) Climatic control of the distribution and abundance of beech (Fagus L.) in Europe and North America.J. Biogeography 16, 551–60.Google Scholar
  13. Hutchinson, G. E. (1987)An Introduction to Population, Ecology. Yale University Press, USA.Google Scholar
  14. Maguire, B. (1973) Niche response structure and the analytic potentials of its relationship to the habitat.Am. Nat. 107, 213–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Mayr, E. (1963)Animal Species and Evolution. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, USA.Google Scholar
  16. Mitchell, W. A. and Valone, T. J. (1990) The optimization research program: studying adaptations by their function.Quart. Rev. Biol. 65, 43–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Pease, C. M., Lande, R. and Bull, J. J. (1989) A model of population growth, dispersal, and evolution in a changing environment.Ecology 70 1657–64.Google Scholar
  18. Pulliam, H. R. (1988) Sources, sinks, and population regulation.Am. Nat. 132, 652–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Rosenzweig, M. L. (1974) On the evolution of habitat selection.Proc. Int. Congr. Ecol. 1st, 401–4.Google Scholar
  20. Rosenzweig, M. L. (1987) Habitat selection as a source of biological diversity.Evol. Ecol. 1, 315–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Wilson, D. S. (1983) The group selection controversy: history and current status.Ann. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 14, 159–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Chapmann & Hall 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert D. Holt
    • 1
  • Michael S. Gaines
    • 2
  1. 1.Museum of Natural History and Department of Systematics and EcologyThe University of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of Systematics and EcologyThe University of KansasLawrenceUSA

Personalised recommendations