Fundamental Flaws with the Fundamental Niche

Michael J. Angilletta, Michael W. Sears, Ofir Levy, Jacob P. Youngblood, John M. Vandenbrooks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


For more than 70 years, Hutchinson's concept of the fundamental niche has guided ecological research. Hutchinson envisioned the niche as a multidimensional hypervolume relating the fitness of an organism to relevant environmental factors. Here, we challenge the utility of the concept to modern ecologists, based on its inability to account for environmental variation and phenotypic plasticity. We have ample evidence that the frequency, duration, and sequence of abiotic stress influence the survivorship and performance of organisms. Recent work shows that organisms also respond to the spatial configuration of abiotic conditions. Spatiotemporal variation of the environment interacts with the genotype to generate a unique phenotype at each life stage. These dynamics cannot be captured adequately by a multidimensional hypervolume. Therefore, we recommend that ecologists abandon the niche as a tool for predicting the persistence of species and embrace mechanistic models of population growth that incorporate spatiotemporal dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1038-1048
Number of pages11
JournalIntegrative and comparative biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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