Animal learning as a source of developmental bias

Kevin N. Laland, Wataru Toyokawa, Thomas Oudman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


As a form of adaptive plasticity that allows organisms to shift their phenotype toward the optimum, learning is inherently a source of developmental bias. Learning may be of particular significance to the evolutionary biology community because it allows animals to generate adaptively biased novel behavior tuned to the environment and, through social learning, to propagate behavioral traits to other individuals, also in an adaptively biased manner. We describe several types of developmental bias manifest in learning, including an adaptive bias, historical bias, origination bias, and transmission bias, stressing that these can influence evolutionary dynamics through generating nonrandom phenotypic variation and/or nonrandom environmental states. Theoretical models and empirical data have established that learning can impose direction on adaptive evolution, affect evolutionary rates (both speeding up and slowing down responses to selection under different conditions) and outcomes, influence the probability of populations reaching global optimum, and affect evolvability. Learning is characterized by highly specific, path‐dependent interactions with the (social and physical) environment, often resulting in new phenotypic outcomes. Consequently, learning regularly introduces novelty into phenotype space. These considerations imply that learning may commonly generate plasticity first evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12311
JournalEvolution and Development
VolumeEarly View
Early online date26 Aug 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Aug 2019


  • Developmental bias
  • Evolvability
  • Learning
  • Plasticity
  • Plasticity first


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