Cultural niche construction and human evolution

  title={Cultural niche construction and human evolution},
  author={Kevin N. Laland and John C. Odling-Smee and Marcus W. Feldman},
  journal={Journal of Evolutionary Biology},
Organisms frequently choose, regulate, construct and destroy important components of their environments, in the process changing the selection pressures to which they and other organisms are exposed. We refer to these processes as niche construction. In humans, culture has greatly amplified our capacity for niche construction and our ability to modify selection pressures. We use gene‐culture coevolutionary models to explore the evolutionary consequences of culturally generated niche… 

Runaway cultural niche construction

It is suggested that runaway cultural niche construction could have played an important role in human evolution, helping to explain why humans are simultaneously the species with the largest relative brain size, the most potent capacity for niche construction and the greatest reliance on culture.

Niche construction, innovation and complexity

Niche construction, sources of selection and trait coevolution

It is proposed that niche construction initiates and modifies the selection directly affecting the constructor, and on other species, in an orderly, directed and sustained manner and co-directs adaptive evolution by imposing a consistent statistical bias on selection.

Cultural niche construction in a metapopulation.

Complexity in models of cultural niche construction with selection and homophily

A model that includes selection and homophily as independent culturally transmitted traits that influence the fitness and mate choice determined by another focal cultural trait is developed and discusses applications of this model to the interaction of beliefs and behaviors regarding education, contraception, and animal domestication.

Cultural Niche Construction: An Introduction

An introduction to niche construction theory (NCT), which suggests that acquired characters play an evolutionary role through transforming selective environments and some of its more important implications for the human sciences are illustrated.

Rethinking Adaptation: The Niche-Construction Perspective

This essay reviews the arguments put forward in favor of the niche-construction perspective and concludes that the evolving complementary match between organisms and environments is the product of reciprocal interacting processes of natural selection and niche construction.

Human niche construction in interdisciplinary focus

Niche construction theory potentially integrates the biological and social aspects of the human sciences, and modifies selection pressures in environments in ways that affect both human evolution, and the evolution of other species.


  • L. Lehmann
  • Psychology
    Evolution; international journal of organic evolution
  • 2008
An inclusive fitness analysis of selection on niche constructing phenotypes, which can affect their environment from local to global scales in arbitrarily spatially subdivided populations, is provided.



Niche construction, biological evolution, and cultural change

In this model, phenotypes have a much more active role in evolution than generally conceived and sheds light on hominid evolution, on the evolution of culture, and on altruism and cooperation.

Evolutionary consequences of niche construction and their implications for ecology.

The analysis confirms that niche construction can be a potent evolutionary agent by generating selection that leads to the fixation of otherwise deleterious alleles, supporting stable polymorphisms where none are expected, eliminating what would otherwise be stable polymorphism, and generating unusual evolutionary dynamics.

The evolutionary consequences of niche construction: a theoretical investigation using two‐locus theory

The results suggest that the changes that organisms bring about in their niche can themselves be an important source of natural selection pressures, and imply that evolution may proceed in cycles of selection and niche construction.

Coevolution: Genes, Culture, and Human Diversity

The author suggests that a process of cultural selection, or preservation by preference, driven chiefly by choice or imposition depending on the circumstances, has been the main but not exclusive force of cultural change, and shows that this process gives rise to five major patterns or modes in which cultural change is at odds with genetic change.

Cultural transmission and evolution: a quantitative approach.

A mathematical theory of the non-genetic transmission of cultural traits is developed that provides a framework for future investigations in quantitative social and anthropological science and concludes that cultural transmission is an essential factor in the study of cultural change.

Cultural and biological evolutionary processes, selection for a trait under complex transmission.

Cultural variation in Africa: role of mechanisms of transmission and adaptation.

Most traits examined, in particular those affecting family structure and kinship, showed great conservation over generations, as shown by the fit of model A, in agreement with the theoretical demonstration that cultural transmission in the family (vertical) is the most conservative one.

A stochastic model of gene-culture coevolution suggested by the "culture historical hypothesis" for the evolution of adult lactose absorption in humans.

  • K. Aoki
  • Biology, Medicine
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
  • 1986
The incomplete correlation observed between adult lactose absorption and milk use does not necessarily constitute evidence against the hypothesis, and a theoretical measure of the correlation between gene and culture in terms of the three ultimate fixation probabilities is defined.


We develop quantitative‐genetic models for the evolution of multiple traits under maternal inheritance, in which traits are transmitted through non‐Mendelian as well as Mendelian mechanisms, and

Models for cultural inheritance. I. Group mean and within group variation.