Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 325–348 | Cite as

Domestication as a model system for niche construction theory

  • Melinda A. ZederEmail author
Original Paper


Niche Construction Theory (NCT) provides a powerful conceptual framework for understanding how and why humans and target species entered into domesticatory relationships that have transformed Earth’s biota, landforms, and atmosphere, and shaped the trajectory of human cultural development. NCT provides fresh perspective on how niche-constructing behaviors of humans and plants and animals promote co-evolutionary interactions that alter selection pressures and foster genetic responses in domesticates. It illuminates the role of niche-altering activities in bequeathing an ecological inheritance that perpetuates the co-evolutionary relationships leading to domestication, especially as it pertains to traditional ecological knowledge and the transmission of learned behaviors aimed at enhancing returns from local environments. NCT also provides insights into the contexts and mechanisms that promote cooperative interactions in both humans and target species needed to sustain niche-constructing activities, ensuring that these activities produce an ecological inheritance in which domesticates play an increasing role. A NCT perspective contributes to on-going debates in the social sciences over explanatory frameworks for domestication, in particular as they pertain to issues of reciprocal causation, co-evolution, and the role of human intentionality. Reciprocally, domestication provides a model system for evaluating on-going debates in evolutionary biology concerning the impact of niche construction, phenotypic plasticity, extra-genetic inheritance, and developmental bias in shaping the direction and tempo of evolutionary change.


Domestication Niche Construction Theory Co-evolution Ecological Inheritance Cooperation Extended Evolutionary Synthesis 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland (outside the USA)  2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Program in Human Ecology and Archaeobiology, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural HistorySmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Santa Fe InstituteSanta FeUSA

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