[MARMAM] New humpback whale song cultural evolution paper

Ellen Garland ecg5 at st-andrews.ac.uk
Tue Dec 14 03:02:31 PST 2021

Dear Colleagues,

My co-authors and I are pleased to announce the publication of our new paper in Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B:

Garland EC, Garrigue C, Noad MJ. 2021 When does cultural evolution become cumulative culture? A case study of humpback whale song. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 377: 20200313. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2020.0313

Culture presents a second inheritance system by which innovations can be transmitted between generations and among individuals. Some vocal behaviours present compelling examples of cultural evolution. Where modifications accumulate over time, such a process can become cumulative cultural evolution. The existence of cumulative cultural evolution in non-human animals is controversial. When physical products of such a process do not exist, modifications may not be clearly visible over time. Here, we investigate whether the constantly evolving songs of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are indicative of cumulative cultural evolution. Using nine years of song data recorded from the New Caledonian humpback whale population, we quantified song evolution and complexity, and formally evaluated this process in light of criteria for cumulative cultural evolution. Song accumulates changes shown by an increase in complexity, but this process is punctuated by rapid loss of song material. While such changes tentatively satisfy the core criteria for cumulative cultural evolution, this claim hinges on the assumption that novel songs are preferred by females. While parsimonious, until such time as studies can link fitness benefits (reproductive success) to individual singers, any claims that humpback whale song evolution represents a form of cumulative cultural evolution may remain open to interpretation.
This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘The emergence of collective knowledge and cumulative culture in animals, humans and machines’.

The paper is freely available here: https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2020.0313

It is part of a discussion meeting issue: ‘The emergence of collective knowledge and cumulative culture in animals, humans and machines’ organized and edited by Andrew Whiten, Dora Biro, Ellen C. Garland and Simon Kirby, which is available here: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/toc/rstb/2022/377/1843

Information on the Discussion meeting can be found here: https://royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/2022/03/knowledge-culture/

Kind regards,
Ellen C. Garland, Ph.D.
Royal Society University Research Fellow
Member RSE Young Academy of Scotland

Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU)
Scottish Oceans Institute
School of Biology
University of St Andrews
Fife, KY16 8LB, UK

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Email: ecg5 at st-andrews.ac.uk<mailto:ecg5 at st-andrews.ac.uk>
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Twitter: @EllenGarland4
The University of St Andrews is a charity registered in Scotland: No SC013532

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