Community-level consequences of habitat construction and eco-devo responses

Organisms interact with their environments in two key ways. Through their various modes of life, organisms alter environmental conditions (external niche construction or habitat construction; see Chapter 2, Section 2.3.3, and Chapter 5). Conversely, external conditions influence phenotypic expression in organisms, shaping their individual growth, morphology, allocation, life history, physiology, and behavior (eco-devo responses;[1] see Chapter 1, Section 1.3, Chapter 2, Section 2.3.1, and Chapter 3). Both types of organism-environment interaction have community-level consequences: first, because changes to external environments affect all organisms that inhabit those environments; and, second, because individual phenotypic responses shape ecological interactions. Through these community- level effects, both habitat construction and eco-devo adjustments create ecological feedbacks on the originating organism. This chapter examines how (a) habitat-constructing effects and (b) individual eco-devo responses such as plasticity contribute to the emergent complexity of ecological communities as functional systems. (Although for convenience they are discussed separately, it is important to note that these two reciprocal processes are not independent; eco-devo responses, including plastic responses, themselves influence the impact of organisms on their environments, by mediating how individuals engage with and succeed in those environments [Chapter 4].) To begin, it is useful to set out a working view of ecological interactions in real communities.

  • [1] As explained in Chapter 1, Section 1.3 (first paragraph),the inclusive terms ecological development or eco-devo are used(following S. Gilbert 2001) to denote all aspects of phenotypicexpression that are influenced by environmental conditions,whether phenological, morphological, physiological, or behavioral. Eco-devo responses include both adaptive and inevitable phenotypic plasticity (changes in phenotypic expressionacross environments; see Chapter 3, Section 3.1.1), as well aspolyphenism, canalization, or any environmentally contingent aspect of phenotypic expression.
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