In search of a temporal niche: Environmental factors

Roelof A. Hut*, Noga Kronfeld-Schor, Vincent van der Vinne, Horacio De la Iglesia

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Time as an ecological niche variable or "temporal niche" can be defined in the context of the most prominent environmental cycles, including the tidal cycle, the lunar day and month, the solar day, and the earth year. For the current review, we focus on the 24-h domain generated through the earth's rotation around its axis (solar day). The daily environmental cycles of light and temperature are a dominant ecological factor generating a variety of adaptations among animals. In this review, we describe these adaptations with a special focus on the visual system and on the adaptive plasticity of activity patterns. Our goals are: (1) Underscore the importance of the 24-h time axis as critical variable in the ecological niche. (2) Highlight cases of temporal niche switches at the evolutionary timescale (phylogenetic level). (3) Review temporal niche switching within an individual's lifespan. (4) Evaluate possible underlying mechanisms for temporal niche switching. (5) Describe a new hypothesis of circadian thermoenergetics which may explain several cases of temporal niche switching in mammals. With this, we hope to inspire experiments under natural conditions or more complex laboratory environments, aimed to reveal environmental factors and mechanisms underlying specific temporal programs.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProgress in Brain Research
PublisherElsevier B.V.
Number of pages24
StatePublished - 2012

Publication series

NameProgress in Brain Research
ISSN (Print)0079-6123
ISSN (Electronic)1875-7855


  • Circadian thermoenergetics hypothesis
  • Diurnality
  • Environment
  • Evolution
  • Eye properties
  • Nocturnality
  • Temporal niche switching
  • Visual system


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