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Cultural change in animals : a flexible behavioural adaptation to human disturbance.

Gruber, T. and Luncz, L. and Moerchen, J. and Schuppli, C. and Kendal, R.L. and Hockings, K. (2019) 'Cultural change in animals : a flexible behavioural adaptation to human disturbance.', Palgrave communications., 5 . p. 9.


In recent decades, researchers have increasingly documented the impact of anthropogenic activities on wild animals, particularly in relation to changes in behaviour. However, whether human-induced behavioural changes in wildlife may be considered evidence of cultural evolution remains an open question. We explored whether behavioural responses to different types of human activities in species already known to display behaviour transmitted through social learning, particularly non-human primates (NHPs), are suggestive of cultural evolution in the wild. Results indicate that human influence on NHP cultural repertoires includes the modification and disappearance of existing cultural traits, as well as the invention of novel traditions with the potential to become cultural. These examples are found mostly in the domain of food acquisition, where animals modify their diet to include new resources, and adopt novel foraging strategies to avoid humans. In summary, this paper suggests that human activities can act as a catalyst for cultural change in animals, both in terms of threatening existing traditions and fostering new ones. The current situation may echo environmental changes thought to have triggered major behavioural adaptations in our own evolutionary history and thus be useful for research on human cultural evolution. As wildlife is increasingly exposed to humans and their activities, understanding how animal behaviour patterns and cultures are impacted and change in response to anthropogenic factors is of growing conservation importance.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:20 May 2019
Date deposited:29 May 2019
Date of first online publication:18 June 2019
Date first made open access:No date available

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