Although strategies to conserve biodiversity (e.g., the establishment of reserves and the management of flagship, umbrella, indicator, and keystone species) are valuable, they entail practical and conceptual difficulties. A focus on niche construction and ecosystem engineering, however, could provide new insights and methods for conservation biology. Many organisms modulate the availability of resources to other species by causing state changes in biotic or abiotic materials (ecosystem engineering), in the process frequently changing the selection to which the ecosystem engineers and other organisms are exposed (niche construction). We describe growing evidence that organisms have significant nontrophic impacts on ecosystem structure, function, and biodiversity, and outline established means of identifying key species involved in niche construction. On the basis of this engineering perspective, we propose a number of measures that could be employed to enhance conservation efforts.
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Vol. 56 • No. 7