A deepening understanding of animal culture suggests lessons for conservation

Philippa Brakes*, Emma L. Carroll*, Sasha Dall, Sally Keith, Peter McGregor, Sarah Mesnick, Michael Noad, Luke Rendell, Martha Robbins, Christian Rutz, Alex Thorton, Andrew Whiten, Martin Whiting, Lucy Aplin, Stuart Bearhop, Paolo Ciucci, Vicki Fishlock, John Ford, Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Mark SimmondsFernando Spina, Paul Wade, Hal Whithead, James Williams, Ellen C. Garland*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


A key goal of conservation is to protect biodiversity by supporting the long-term persistence of viable, natural populations of wild species. Conservation practice has long been guided by genetic, ecological and demographic indicators of risk. Emerging evidence of animal culture across diverse taxa and its role as a driver of evolutionary diversification, population structure and demographic processes may be essential for augmenting these conventional conservation approaches and decision-making. Animal culture was the focus of a ground-breaking resolution under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), an international treaty operating under the UN Environment Programme. Here, we synthesise existing evidence to demonstrate how social learning and animal culture interact with processes important to conservation management. Specifically, we explore how social learning might influence population viability, be an important resource in response to anthropogenic change and provide examples of how it can result in phenotypically distinct units with different, socially learnt behavioural strategies. Whilst identifying culture and social learning can be challenging, indirect identification and parsimonious inferences may be informative. Finally, we identify relevant methodologies and provide a framework for viewing behavioural data through a cultural lens which might provide new insights for conservation management.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20202718
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1949
Early online date21 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2021


  • Cultural transmission
  • Social learning
  • Conservation management
  • Evolutionary significant units
  • Human-wildlife conflict
  • Population viability


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