Organisms modify their environments in ways that can be beneficial or detrimental not only to themselves but also to others sharing the same environment. Such niche-constructing or niche-destroying activities are often due to the production or consumption of environmental factors, such as resources, wastes, or toxins, which ultimately influence the ecology and evolution of social interactions. We present a new, four-way classification of social behaviors where individual behaviors are categorized into producing/consuming an environmental factor, as well as into helping/harming others. Although not immediately obvious, dispersal (the act of moving within a habitat or between habitats) is another mechanism by which organisms modify their environment. An explicit representation of such environmentally mediated interactions is key to capturing realistic system complexity and can reveal some unexpected outcomes in social dilemmas.


social evolution; niche construction; microbes; dispersal; spatial structure; ecology;

Published in

Trends in Ecology & Evolution, November 2018