, Volume 178, Issue 1, pp 1–4 | Cite as

Individual-level niche specialization within populations: emerging areas of study

  • Craig A. LaymanEmail author
  • Seth D. Newsome
  • Tara Gancos Crawford
Special Topic: Individual-level niche specialization


Charles Darwin would likely question the novelty of a special section on intraspecific variation 156 years after publication of On the Origin of Species. Not only was phenotypic variation fundamental to the theory of evolution by natural selection, Darwin argued it was a challenge in classifying individuals to particular species. He wrote in chapter 2: “… but I could show by a long catalogue of facts, that parts which must be called important, whether viewed under a physiological or classificatory point of view, sometimes vary in the individuals of the same species. I am convinced that the most experienced naturalist would be surprised at the number of the cases of variability, even in important parts of structure…” (Darwin 1859).

Yet during the historical development of many sub-disciplines in the ecological sciences, inter-individual differences were typically subsumed to coarser levels of classification. In community ecology, species served as the nodes in food web...


Diet Variation Individual Specialization Resource Category Eurasian Perch Ecological Opportunity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Araújo MS, Bolnick DI, Layman CA (2011) The ecological causes of individual specialization. Ecol Lett 14:948–958CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bolnick DI, Svanbäck R, Fordyce JA, Yang LH, Davis JM, Hulsey CD, Forister ML (2003) The ecology of individuals: incidence and implications of individual specialization. Am Nat 161:1–28CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bolnick DI, Amarasekare P, Araújo MS, Bürger R, Levine JM, Novak M, Rudolf VHW, Schreiber SJ, Urban MC, Vasseur DA (2011) Why intraspecific trait variation matters in community ecology. Trends Ecol Evol 26:183–192CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Dall SRX, Bell AM, Bolnick DI, Ratnieks FLW (2012) An evolutionary ecology of individual differences. Ecol Lett 15:1189–1198CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Darwin C (1859) On the origin of species by means of natural selection. Murray, LondonGoogle Scholar
  6. Elliot Smith EA, Newsome SD, Estes JA, Tinket MT (2015) The cost of reproduction: differential resource specialization in female and male California sea otters. OecologiaGoogle Scholar
  7. Estes JA, Riedman ML, Staedler MM, Tinker MT, Lyon BE (2003) Individual variation in prey selection by sea otters: patterns, causes and implications. J Anim Ecol 72:144–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fodrie FJ, Yeager LA, Grabowski JH, Layman CA, Sherwood GD, Kenworthy MD (2015) Measuring individuality in habitat use across complex landscapes: approaches, constraints, and implications for assessing resource specialization. OecologiaGoogle Scholar
  9. Newsome SD, Garbe HM, Wilson EC, Gehrt SD (2015a) Individual variation in anthropogenic resource use in an urban carnivore. OecologiaGoogle Scholar
  10. Newsome SD, Tinker MT, Gill VA, Hoyt ZN, Doroff A, Nichol L, Bodkin JL (2015b) The interaction of intraspecific competition and habitat on individual diet specialization: a near range-wide examination of sea otters. OecologiaGoogle Scholar
  11. Novak M, Tinker MT (2015) Timescales alter the inferred strength and temporal consistency of intraspecific diet specialization. OecologiaGoogle Scholar
  12. Robertson A, McDonald RA, Delahayb RJ, Kellyd SD, Bearhop S (2015) Resource availability affects individual niche variation and its consequences in group-living European Badgers Meles meles. OecologiaGoogle Scholar
  13. Rosenblatt AE, Nifong JC, Heithaus MR, Mazzotti FJ, Cherkiss MS, Jeffery BM, Elsey RM, Decker RA, Silliman BR, Louis J, Guillette LJ Jr, Lowers RH, Larson JC (2015) Factors affecting individual foraging specialization and temporal diet stability across the range of a large “generalist” apex predator. OecologiaGoogle Scholar
  14. Roughgarden J (1972) Evolution of niche width. Am Nat 106:683–687CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Snowberg LK, Hendrix KM, Bolnick DI (2015) Covarying variances: more morphologically variable populations also exhibit more diet variation. OecologiaGoogle Scholar
  16. Svanbäck R, Quevedo M, Olsson J, Eklöv (2015) Individuals in food webs: the influence of trophic position on omnivory and individual diet specialization. OecologiaGoogle Scholar
  17. Urszán TJ, Török J, Hettyey A, Garamszegi LZ, Herczeg G (2015) Behavioural consistency and life history in Rana dalmatina tadpoles. OecologiaGoogle Scholar
  18. Van Valen L (1965) Morphological variation and width of ecological niche. Am Nat 99:377–390CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Craig A. Layman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Seth D. Newsome
    • 2
  • Tara Gancos Crawford
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Applied EcologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  2. 2.Biology DepartmentUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  3. 3.Warnell School of Forestry and Natural ResourcesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

Personalised recommendations