Cultural evolutionary theory: How culture evolves and why it matters.
ABSTRACT: Human cultural traits-behaviors, ideas, and technologies that can be learned from other individuals-can exhibit complex patterns of transmission and evolution, and researchers have developed theoretical models, both verbal and mathematical, to facilitate our understanding of these patterns. Many of the first quantitative models of cultural evolution were modified from existing concepts in theoretical population genetics because cultural evolution has many parallels with, as well as clear differences from, genetic evolution. Furthermore, cultural and genetic evolution can interact with one another and influence both transmission and selection. This interaction requires theoretical treatments of gene-culture coevolution and dual inheritance, in addition to purely cultural evolution. In addition, cultural evolutionary theory is a natural component of studies in demography, human ecology, and many other disciplines. Here, we review the core concepts in cultural evolutionary theory as they pertain to the extension of biology through culture, focusing on cultural evolutionary applications in population genetics, ecology, and demography. For each of these disciplines, we review the theoretical literature and highlight relevant empirical studies. We also discuss the societal implications of the study of cultural evolution and of the interactions of humans with one another and with their environment.
Project description:In the past few decades, scholars from several disciplines have pursued the curious parallel noted by Darwin between the genetic evolution of species and the cultural evolution of beliefs, skills, knowledge, languages, institutions, and other forms of socially transmitted information. Here, I review current progress in the pursuit of an evolutionary science of culture that is grounded in both biological and evolutionary theory, but also treats culture as more than a proximate mechanism that is directly controlled by genes. Both genetic and cultural evolution can be described as systems of inherited variation that change over time in response to processes such as selection, migration, and drift. Appropriate differences between genetic and cultural change are taken seriously, such as the possibility in the latter of nonrandomly guided variation or transformation, blending inheritance, and one-to-many transmission. The foundation of cultural evolution was laid in the late 20th century with population-genetic style models of cultural microevolution, and the use of phylogenetic methods to reconstruct cultural macroevolution. Since then, there have been major efforts to understand the sociocognitive mechanisms underlying cumulative cultural evolution, the consequences of demography on cultural evolution, the empirical validity of assumed social learning biases, the relative role of transformative and selective processes, and the use of quantitative phylogenetic and multilevel selection models to understand past and present dynamics of society-level change. I conclude by highlighting the interdisciplinary challenges of studying cultural evolution, including its relation to the traditional social sciences and humanities.
Project description:The evolution of cumulative adaptive culture has received widespread interest in recent years, especially the factors promoting its occurrence. Current evolutionary models suggest that an increase in population size may lead to an increase in cultural complexity via a higher rate of cultural transmission and innovation. However, relatively little attention has been paid to the role of natural selection in the evolution of cultural complexity. Here we use an agent-based simulation model to demonstrate that high selection pressure in the form of resource pressure promotes the accumulation of adaptive culture in spite of small population sizes and high innovation costs. We argue that the interaction of demography and selection is important, and that neither can be considered in isolation. We predict that an increase in cultural complexity is most likely to occur under conditions of population pressure relative to resource availability. Our model may help to explain why culture change can occur without major environmental change. We suggest that understanding the interaction between shifting selective pressures and demography is essential for explaining the evolution of cultural complexity.
Project description:Parasites and pathogens of wildlife can threaten biodiversity, infect humans and domestic animals, and cause significant economic losses, providing incentives to manage wildlife diseases. Recent insights from disease ecology have helped transform our understanding of infectious disease dynamics and yielded new strategies to better manage wildlife diseases. Simultaneously, wildlife disease management (WDM) presents opportunities for large-scale empirical tests of disease ecology theory in diverse natural systems.To assess whether the potential complementarity between WDM and disease ecology theory has been realized, we evaluate the extent to which specific concepts in disease ecology theory have been explicitly applied in peer-reviewed WDM literature.While only half of WDM articles published in the past decade incorporated disease ecology theory, theory has been incorporated with increasing frequency over the past 40 years. Contrary to expectations, articles authored by academics were no more likely to apply disease ecology theory, but articles that explain unsuccessful management often do so in terms of theory.Some theoretical concepts such as density-dependent transmission have been commonly applied, whereas emerging concepts such as pathogen evolutionary responses to management, biodiversity-disease relationships and within-host parasite interactions have not yet been fully integrated as management considerations. Synthesis and applications. Theory-based disease management can meet the needs of both academics and managers by testing disease ecology theory and improving disease interventions. Theoretical concepts that have received limited attention to date in wildlife disease management could provide a basis for improving management and advancing disease ecology in the future.
Project description:Since the last major theoretical integration in evolutionary biology-the modern synthesis (MS) of the 1940s-the biosciences have made significant advances. The rise of molecular biology and evolutionary developmental biology, the recognition of ecological development, niche construction and multiple inheritance systems, the '-omics' revolution and the science of systems biology, among other developments, have provided a wealth of new knowledge about the factors responsible for evolutionary change. Some of these results are in agreement with the standard theory and others reveal different properties of the evolutionary process. A renewed and extended theoretical synthesis, advocated by several authors in this issue, aims to unite pertinent concepts that emerge from the novel fields with elements of the standard theory. The resulting theoretical framework differs from the latter in its core logic and predictive capacities. Whereas the MS theory and its various amendments concentrate on genetic and adaptive variation in populations, the extended framework emphasizes the role of constructive processes, ecological interactions and systems dynamics in the evolution of organismal complexity as well as its social and cultural conditions. Single-level and unilinear causation is replaced by multilevel and reciprocal causation. Among other consequences, the extended framework overcomes many of the limitations of traditional gene-centric explanation and entails a revised understanding of the role of natural selection in the evolutionary process. All these features stimulate research into new areas of evolutionary biology.
Project description:Understanding the ecological and evolutionary factors that influence species rarity has important theoretical and applied implications, yet the reasons why some species are rare while others are common remain unresolved. As a novel exploration of scientific knowledge, we used network analysis conceptually to visualize the foci of a comprehensive base of >800 studies on plant species rarity within the context of ecology and evolution. In doing so, we highlight existing research strengths that could substantiate novel syntheses and gaps that could inspire new research. Our results reveal strong integrated foci on population dynamics with other ecological concepts. In contrast, despite the potential for ecological and evolutionary processes to interact, few studies explored the interplay of environmental factors and microevolutionary patterns. The cellular and molecular biology, physiology, and plasticity of rare plant species within both ecological and evolutionary contexts similarly provide avenues for impactful future investigations.
Project description:Via strength in numbers, groups of cells can influence their environments in ways that individual cells cannot. Large-scale structural patterns and collective functions underpinning virulence, tumour growth and bacterial biofilm formation are emergent properties of coupled physical and biological processes within cell groups. Owing to the abundance of factors influencing cell group behaviour, deriving general principles about them is a daunting challenge. We argue that combining mechanistic theory with theoretical ecology and evolution provides a key strategy for clarifying how cell groups form, how they change in composition over time, and how they interact with their environments. Here, we review concepts that are critical for dissecting the complexity of cell collectives, including dimensionless parameter groups, individual-based modelling and evolutionary theory. We then use this hybrid modelling approach to provide an example analysis of the evolution of cooperative enzyme secretion in bacterial biofilms.
Project description:Recent studies argue that cross-cultural variation in human cooperation supports cultural group selection models of the evolution of large-scale cooperation. However, these studies confound cultural and environmental differences between populations by predominantly sampling one population per society. Here, we test the hypothesis that behavioral variation between populations is driven by environmental differences in demography and ecology. We use a public goods game played with money and a naturalistic measure of behavior involving the distribution of salt, an essential and locally valued resource, to demonstrate significant variation in levels of cooperation across 16 discrete populations of the same small-scale society, the Pahari Korwa of central India. Variation between these populations of the same cultural group is comparable to that found between different cultural groups in previous studies. Demographic factors partly explain this variation; age and a measure of social network size are associated with contributions in the public goods game, while population size and the number of adult sisters residing in the population are associated with decisions regarding salt. That behavioral variation is at least partly contingent on environmental differences between populations questions the existence of stable norms of cooperation. Hence, our findings call for reinterpretation of cross-cultural data on cooperation. Although cultural group selection could theoretically explain the evolution of large-scale cooperation, our results make clear that existing cross-cultural data cannot be taken as empirical support for this hypothesis.
Project description:Although dispersal is generally viewed as a crucial determinant for the fitness of any organism, our understanding of its role in the persistence and spread of plant populations remains incomplete. Generalizing and predicting dispersal processes are challenging due to context dependence of seed dispersal, environmental heterogeneity and interdependent processes occurring over multiple spatial and temporal scales. Current population models often use simple phenomenological descriptions of dispersal processes, limiting their ability to examine the role of population persistence and spread, especially under global change. To move seed dispersal ecology forward, we need to evaluate the impact of any single seed dispersal event within the full spatial and temporal context of a plant's life history and environmental variability that ultimately influences a population's ability to persist and spread. In this perspective, we provide guidance on integrating empirical and theoretical approaches that account for the context dependency of seed dispersal to improve our ability to generalize and predict the consequences of dispersal, and its anthropogenic alteration, across systems. We synthesize suitable theoretical frameworks for this work and discuss concepts, approaches and available data from diverse subdisciplines to help operationalize concepts, highlight recent breakthroughs across research areas and discuss ongoing challenges and open questions. We address knowledge gaps in the movement ecology of seeds and the integration of dispersal and demography that could benefit from such a synthesis. With an interdisciplinary perspective, we will be able to better understand how global change will impact seed dispersal processes, and potential cascading effects on plant population persistence, spread and biodiversity.
Project description:Dispersal is a process of central importance for the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of populations and communities, because of its diverse consequences for gene flow and demography. It is subject to evolutionary change, which begs the question, what is the genetic basis of this potentially complex trait? To address this question, we (i) review the empirical literature on the genetic basis of dispersal, (ii) explore how theoretical investigations of the evolution of dispersal have represented the genetics of dispersal, and (iii) discuss how the genetic basis of dispersal influences theoretical predictions of the evolution of dispersal and potential consequences. Dispersal has a detectable genetic basis in many organisms, from bacteria to plants and animals. Generally, there is evidence for significant genetic variation for dispersal or dispersal-related phenotypes or evidence for the micro-evolution of dispersal in natural populations. Dispersal is typically the outcome of several interacting traits, and this complexity is reflected in its genetic architecture: while some genes of moderate to large effect can influence certain aspects of dispersal, dispersal traits are typically polygenic. Correlations among dispersal traits as well as between dispersal traits and other traits under selection are common, and the genetic basis of dispersal can be highly environment-dependent. By contrast, models have historically considered a highly simplified genetic architecture of dispersal. It is only recently that models have started to consider multiple loci influencing dispersal, as well as non-additive effects such as dominance and epistasis, showing that the genetic basis of dispersal can influence evolutionary rates and outcomes, especially under non-equilibrium conditions. For example, the number of loci controlling dispersal can influence projected rates of dispersal evolution during range shifts and corresponding demographic impacts. Incorporating more realism in the genetic architecture of dispersal is thus necessary to enable models to move beyond the purely theoretical towards making more useful predictions of evolutionary and ecological dynamics under current and future environmental conditions. To inform these advances, empirical studies need to answer outstanding questions concerning whether specific genes underlie dispersal variation, the genetic architecture of context-dependent dispersal phenotypes and behaviours, and correlations among dispersal and other traits.
Project description:Population structure can strongly affect evolutionary dynamics. The most general way to describe population structures are graphs. An important observable on evolutionary graphs is the probability that a novel mutation spreads through the entire population. But what drives this spread of a mutation towards fixation? Here, we propose a novel way to understand the forces driving fixation by borrowing techniques from evolutionary demography to quantify the invasion fitness and the effective population size for different graphs. Our method is very general and even applies to weighted graphs with node dependent fitness. However, we focus on analytical results for undirected graphs with node independent fitness. The method will allow to conceptually integrate evolutionary graph theory with theoretical genetics of structured populations.