The extended phenotype(s): a comparison with niche construction theory

David A. Wells*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


While niche construction theory locates animal artefacts in their constructors’ environment, hence treating them as capable of exerting selective pressure on both the constructors and their descendants, the extended phenotype concept assimilates artefacts with their constructors’ genes. Analogous contrasts apply in the case of endoparasite and brood parasite genes influencing host behaviour. The explanatory power of these competing approaches are assessed by re-examining the core chapters of Richard Dawkins’ The Extended Phenotype. Because animal artefacts (chapter 11) have multiple evolutionary consequences for their constructors, the extra-body effects of a gene seemingly include feedback effects on multiple other genes, a result which is more consistent with niche construction theory than with selfish gene theory. In the case of endoparasite genes influencing host behaviour (chapter 12), Dawkins’ argument leaves out what appears to be the key explanatory component, namely the role of the host’s own bodily systems in making it possible for such genes to exist. For action at a distance (chapter 13), it is unclear whether the key genes have extended effects because they sit in the body of the manipulating organism, or alternatively do not have such effects because they sit in the body of its victim. It is argued that niche construction theory offers a superior explanation in all three cases, regardless of whether the extended phenotype concept is interpreted in selfish gene or selfish organism terms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)547-567
Number of pages21
JournalBiology and Philosophy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2015


  • Animal artefact
  • Extended phenotype
  • Niche construction theory
  • Parasite
  • Selfish gene
  • Selfish organism


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