Niche breadth: Causes and consequences for ecology, evolution, and conservation

Michelle E. Afkhami, Dominique Gravel, Stuart W. Livingstone, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


Niche breadth is a unifying concept spanning diverse aspects of ecology, evolution, and conservation biology. Niche breadth usually refers to the diversity of resources used or environments tolerated by an individual, population, species, or clade.Herewe review key research in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology in light of niche breadth. Namely, we explore the role of niche breadth in shaping geographic distributions and species richness from local to landscape scales, how niche breadth evolves and influences lineage diversification, and its use for understanding species invasions, responses to climate change, vulnerability to extinction, and ecosystemfunctioning. This diverse literature informs a research agenda that identifies focused needs for further progress: Testing the hierarchical nature of niche breadth (e.g., of individuals, populations, and species); quantifying correlations in niche breadth among different niche axes and the role of environmental drivers and organismal constraints in generating these correlations; and evaluating the factors that decouple fundamental and realized niches. We describe how this research agenda could help unify disparate subdisciplines and shed light on key questions in ecology, evolution, and conservation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-214
Number of pages36
JournalQuarterly Review of Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Biodiversity-ecosystem functioning
  • Biogeography
  • Climate change
  • Community assembly
  • Generalist
  • Interaction networks
  • Invasion
  • Specialist
  • Speciation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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