Ecological release, originally conceived as niche expansion following a reduction in interspecific competition, may prompt invasion success, morphological evolution, speciation, and other ecological and evolutionary outcomes. However, the concept has not been recently reviewed. Here, we trace the study of ‘ecological release’ from its inception through the present day and find that current definitions are broad and highly varied. Viewing this development as a potential impediment to clear communication and hypothesis testing, we suggest a consensus definition for ecological release: niche expansions and shifts when a constraining interspecific interaction is reduced or removed. In rationalizing this definition, we highlight the various ways ecological release can unfold and address its potential evolutionary consequences.