Does any branch of modern evolution theories include aspects of evolving organisms modifying the physical environment?

An example from the evolution of life could be early stage introduction of oxygen and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from single cell bacterial growth, thereby establishing a basis for growth of more complex organisms.

See also somewhat related question: https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/22771/does-the-universe-follow-a-general-physical-and-computational-principle-of-evolu


1 Answer 1


Yes, such processes are considered but there is still a lot of work to be done in this field.

Because the question is open-ended I will just define two concepts of interest and let you go through papers if you want to understand how such processes are modelled.

Niche Construction

Niche construction is the process in which an organism alters its own environment. Sometimes, niche construction takes a broad definition and it then refers more globally to any environment change that is induced by an organism regardless of whether the individual/lineage experiencing the environment is the same one than the one causing the modification. Under this broad definition, niche construction has the meaning as ecological engineering to my understanding.

Some obvious examples are bird nests, beaver's dam and humans's houses. The process of niche construction gets really interesting when the niche is inherited by future generations.

Ecosystem engineering

Ecosystem engineering is the process in which an organism alters the its environment and the environment of other lineages/species. Ecological facilitation is one class of examples.

Ecosystem engineering vs Niche Construction

To my understanding, the term niche construction is more often used in the evolutionary ecology literature, while the term ecosystem engineering is more often used in the ecology literature. Note again that (in my understanding) niche construction in its broad sense takes the same definition as ecosystem engineering but not in its narrow sense.

Models of niche construction in evolutionary biology

There are a number of models of niche construction in evolutionary biology. I am not expert in this field and am not able to make a good summary (would take a while even for an expert anyway). Here are a few papers (that I haven't fully read) that you may want to consider

Note that depending on your level of understanding of evolutionary biology, these papers may be a bit complicated to fully understand.


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