What is the shape of the fundamental Grinnellian niche?

  • Jorge SoberónEmail author
  • A. Townsend Peterson


Since it was defined by Hutchinson, in 1957, the fundamental niche has been assumed, implicitly or explicitly, to have some convex shape. This assumption requires some critical analysis. In this work, we examine the special case of Grinnellian niches (those composed by sets of points of non-interactive variables in multidimensional spaces). We show that annual species in seasonal environments are likely to have very non-convex shapes, and be composed not of sets of points, but of sets of trajectories. We also examine under what circumstances trajectories may be approximated using sets of points. It appears to be the case that the breadth of requirements at each stage in the life history is a key parameter. We conclude by comparing the situation with perennial species.


Fundamental niche Existing niche Realized niche Life history Seasonal environments 



The authors are grateful to the members of the University of Kansas Ecological Niche Modeling seminar, for many fruitful discussions, and to Oliver Broennimann and Robert Holt for helpful comments on the manuscript. We are also grateful to our colleague, Blitzi Soberon, and to our wives Tita (JS) and Rosi (TP), for the patience they show to us when we work at home, or during holidays and weekends.

Funding information

JS received partial support from the ABI NSF grant no. 1458640.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biodiversity InstituteUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

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