BIOL 409
Cultural Evolution in Biological Systems
Last Offered Fall 2017
Division III
This course is not offered in the current catalog or this is a previous listing for a current course.

Class Details

The evolution of genetically transmitted traits has been the subject of extensive study since the “modern synthesis” combined Darwin’s and Mendel’s ideas–later enriched by molecular approaches to developmental biology. More recently, the study of evolution has been extended to traits that are transmitted via social learning. The cultural evolution that occurs in such behavioral traits has many parallels with evolution based on genes: errors and innovation correspond to genetic mutations, immigration may bring in new forms of the behavior, and population bottlenecks can result in loss of behavioral traits. However, there is also a crucial difference between genetic and social transmission of traits: social learners can potentially acquire traits from many members of their population, including unrelated individuals. This difference has many implications, including the acceleration of the evolutionary time scale. We will explore the ways socially learned behaviors evolve, using systems such as tool use (primates, crows), vocal learning (songbirds, orcas), and social organization (baboons). Among the topics we will consider are the role of neutral models and random processes, how neural constraints guide social learning, how social status influences the choice of tutors, and how competition and sexual selection drive changes in learned behavior. We will also consider how these processes interact and how they generate differences as well as parallels between cultural and genetic evolution.
The Class: Format: tutorial
Limit: 10
Expected: 10
Class#: 1391
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: five 4- to 5-page papers; five 1-2 page response papers; tutorial presentations; contribution to the intellectual enterprise
Prerequisites: BIOL 305 or BIOL 204
Enrollment Preferences: senior Biology majors
Unit Notes: satisfies the distributional requirement for the Biology major
Distributions: Division III
Attributes: Linguistics

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