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The Cultural Evolution Society's Online Learning Series

Animal Cultures: Core Discoveries and New Horizons

Lecture 12: Implications for evolutionary biology

Professor Étienne Danchin, CNRS, Université de Toulouse, France

This lecture is organized in two parts aiming at replying to the following question: What does the existence of cultural inheritance change in the process of evolution? As this question has two central concepts, namely Inheritance and evolution, this lecture is structured around these two concepts.

In a first part I discuss the concept of inheritance by going back to its historical origin and the way it is understood today. In doing so, I build a general diagram of fluxes of information across generations that shows the complexity of mechanisms of inheritance and that highlights the originalities of cultural inheritance within this diagram, potentially giving it a major role in evolution.

In the second part I discuss the concepts and mechanisms of evolution, which leads me to build a second diagram describing the dynamics of the various sources of variation that were discussed in the first part. This second diagram highlights the fact that inheritance and evolution cannot be reduced to the sole transmission of genetic information across generations and that many other processes of inheritance are involved, among which is cultural transmission with all its unique properties. As you probably understood, most of this lecture could be part of a lecture about mechanisms of evolution in general. This is because it is necessary to clearly understand mechanisms of evolution to understand the potential role of culture in evolution.

In conclusion, I underline the fact that the question of the role of animal culture in evolution constitutes a largely unanswered domain, a bit like a full new continent that needs to be explored by future researchers, among which potentially is you!

Étienne Danchin

Lecture slides (pdf)

Core (testable) readings

Bentley, R.A., Hahn, M.W. & Shennan, S.J. (2004). Random drift and culture change. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 271, S353-S356.

Danchin, É., Pocheville, A. & Huneman, P. (2019). Early in life effects and heredity: reconciling neo-Darwinism with neo-Lamarckism under the banner of the inclusive evolutionary synthesis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 374, 20180113.

Further reading

Danchin, É., Charmantier, A., Champagne, F.A., Mesoudi, A., Pujol, B. & Blanchet, S. (2011). Beyond DNA: integrating inclusive inheritance into an extended theory of evolution. Nature Reviews Genetics 12, 475-486.

Jablonka, E. & Lamb, M.J. (2005). Evolution in four dimensions. Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioural, and Symbolic Variation in the history of life. MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts.

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