Niche Construction and Other Mechanisms in Ecology & Evolution

CRC TRR-212 Workshop
2-3 July 2020, Bielefeld University

The workshop aims to discuss philosophical questions concerning niche construction and other ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that are relevant to the research in the Collaborative Research Centre TRR-212.

The challenge of integrating evolutionary biology and ecology has haunted biologists since their inception as separate fields. Evolutionary and ecological theories have been developed separately, often concerning different phenomena and time scales, and with different explanatory goals. Yet the many points of connection between the two fields call for cooperation and integration between ecologists and evolutionary biologists and for integrative philosophical reflection. For instance, niche construction theory has been developed by evolutionary biologists to describe how changes made by organisms to their environments can cause evolutionary change. Niche construction is evidently just as much an ecological as an evolutionary mechanism, yet its meaning and relevance for ecology and for evolution has yet to be assessed and fully worked out.

This workshop brings together philosophers, ecologists, and evolutionary biologists interested in niche construction, mechanisms, fitness, and function. Our goal is to clarify the concept of niche construction and to discuss in how far it can be distinguished from related concepts, such as the extended phenotype. Niche construction (as well as niche choice and niche conformance) seems to be a paradigmatic example of an ecological (or ecological-evolutionary) mechanism. We will thus use this case to discuss more generally how the concept of a mechanism, which has been developed primarily in regard to fields such as molecular biology and neuroscience, can be applied to the ecological and evolutionary context. Furthermore, we will examine the roles that the concepts of fitness and of function play in studies of niche construction mechanisms. We hope that thinking about niche construction in terms of mechanisms, fitness and function will contribute to overcome some of the challenges of integrating ecology and evolutionary biology.

Confirmed Speakers and Titles

Jan Baedke (Ruhr University Bochum)
Theories of causal reciprocity in niche construction

Tina Heger (University of Potsdam)
What drives species invasions? The difficulties of revealing mechanisms

Arnaud Pocheville (Paul Sabatier University and University of Sydney)
Title TBA

Lynn Chiu (University of Bordeaux and St. Andrews University)
Varieties of Microbial Niche Construction: Charting out the conceptual landscape

Viorel Pâslaru (University of Dayton)
Population-Level Mechanisms

Grant Ramsey (KU Leuven)
Niche construction and the causal structure of evolutionary theory (Co-authored with Bendik Aaby)

Etienne Roux (University of Bordeaux)
Biological functions and niche construction

Joachim Kurtz (University of Münster)
Title TBA

Student Bursaries

We offer a limited number of travel grants (up to 250 EUR for travel and accommodation) for students and PhD students to participate in the workshop. If you want to apply, please include a brief letter of motivation and your CV with your registration for the workshop.

Registration and Further Information

To register, contact Rose Trappes.


Marie I. Kaiser (Bielefeld University)
Rose Trappes (Bielefeld University)
Ulrich Krohs (University of Münster)
Behzad Nematipour (University of Münster)

This workshop takes place as part of the DFG-funded Collaborative Research Centre at the University of Münster, Bielefeld University and Jena University A Novel Synthesis of Individualisation across Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution: Niche Choice, Niche Conformance, Niche Construction (NC³).