Conceptual Beginnings

Since the beginning of ecology in the nineteenth century, research has centered on resource competition as the primary interaction regulating and structuring populations and communities. As far back as Darwin, ecologists have acknowledged that species occupied roles in their environment and that ecologically similar species, especially closely related species, will compete strongly and result in one species' extinction. Alternatively, species may ecologically or evolutionarily diverge in their resource use, or niche, resulting in reduced niche overlap. These interactions represented the perceived driving mechanisms for speciation and much of the diversity of life on this planet. Early in the twentieth century, Grinnell (1917) had coined the term 'niche' to refer to species' requirements and their use of habitat. At that point, he had been expressing for over a decade that no two species can occupy the same niche. A decade later, Elton elaborated on the term to also mean a species' role and effects in its habitats.

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