A niche width model of optimal specialization

J.P. Bruggeman, Breanndán Ó Nualláin

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Niche width theory, a part of organizational ecology, predicts whether “specialist” or “generalist” forms of organizations have higher “fitness,” in a continually changing environment. To this end, niche width theory uses a mathematical model borrowed from biology. In this paper, we first loosen the specialist-generalist dichotomy, so that we can predict the optimal degree of specialization. Second, we generalize the model to a larger class of environmental conditions, on the basis of the model’s underlying assumptions. Third, we criticize the way the biological model is treated in sociological theory. Two of the model’s dimensions seem to be confused, i.e., that of trait and environment; the predicted optimal specialization is a property of individual organizations, not of populations; and, the distinction between “fine” and “coarse grained” environments is superfluous.
Original languageUndefined
Pages (from-to)161-170
Number of pages10
JournalComputational and mathematical organization theory
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • IR-79328
  • METIS-124067
  • Theory reconstruction - niche theory - specialization - organizational ecology - bounded flexibility

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