Evolution of cultural communication systems: the coevolution of cultural signals and genes encoding learning preferences

  title={Evolution of cultural communication systems: the coevolution of cultural signals and genes encoding learning preferences},
  author={Robert F. Lachlan and Marcus W. Feldman},
  journal={Journal of Evolutionary Biology},
In several communication systems that rely on social learning, such as bird song, and possibly human language, the range of signals that can be learned is limited by perceptual biases – predispositions – that are presumably based on genes. In this paper, we examine the coevolution of such genes with the culturally transmitted communication traits themselves, using deterministic population genetic models. We argue that examining how restrictive genetic predispositions are is a useful way of… 
The reach of gene–culture coevolution in animals
The evidence suggests strongly that animal culture plays an important evolutionary role, and the growing body of evidence that culture is also a major driver of both neutral and adaptive genetic evolution in non-human animals is reviewed.
Cultural niche construction of repertoire size and learning strategies in songbirds
It is shown, using a review of the birdsong literature and mathematical modeling, that learning mode (open-ended or closed-ended learning) is correlated with the size of birdsong repertoires and underpinning this correlation may be a form of cultural niche construction.
A population-genetic model of allopatric divergence is constructed that explores the evolution of genes that underlie learning preferences (predispositions to learn some songs over others) and shows that under nearly all conditions examined, song divergence occurs more readily in the learning model than in the nonlearning model.
Sympatry affects the evolution of genetic versus cultural determination of song
It is found that when the probability of learning is fixed, local dialects can generally be maintained even when a substantial majority of males produce learned songs, and song differentiation will, however, be lost if song learning itself can evolve.
Classes of communication and the conditions for their evolution.
Selection , domestication , and the emergence of learned communication systems
A computational model of the evolutionary history of the Bengalese finch is presented which demonstrates how an increase in song complexity and increased influence from early learning could evolve spontaneously as a result of domestication.
The Role of the Learner in the Cultural Evolution of Vocalizations
It is proposed that the evolutionary dynamics of learning preferences and cultural biases can depend on the existing variation of learned behaviors, and that this interaction could be important to understanding the origin and evolution of cultural systems such as language and birdsong.
Modelling the transition to complex, culturally transmitted communication
This thesis presents a series of related formal models that investigate several issues in the evolution of complex vocal signalling and cultural transmission in songbirds and other species, and develops a computational model that demonstrates that domestication, or a similar shift in the fitness landscape, may play a surprising role in the development of signal complexity and increased vocal plasticity.


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    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
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A haploid sexual two-locus model of gene-culture coevolution is examined, in which a dichotomous phenotype subject to natural selection is transmitted vertically with probabilities dependent on the
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  • Biology
    Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences
  • 1999
The results suggest that selection that would maintain song learning exists over a wide range of conditions, and that song learning may persist due to an evolutionary trap even though the average fitness in a population of learners may be lower than in apopulation of non–learners.
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It is shown that gene-culture coevolutionary theory can be usefully employed to describe, analyze, and predict he diffusion of cultural traits and genetic variation through populations and to explore the interaction between these levels.
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There may, however, be an overall evolutionary advantage to a flexible mechanism of cultural transmission that allows adaptation to new situations for which no genetic mutants are available.
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  • Biology, Psychology
    The American Naturalist
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It is shown that the coevolution of imitative song and female preference from low initial frequencies requires a strong preference, and predictions may be difficult to reconcile with the assumption of polygyny, which may imply limited opportunity for interaction between father and son.