Ecological Inheritance and Cultural Inheritance: What Are They and How Do They Differ?

John Odling-Smee*, Kevin N. Laland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Citations (Scopus)


Niche construction theory (NCT) is distinctive for being explicit in recognizing environmental modification by organisms—niche construction—and its legacy—ecological inheritance—to be evolutionary processes in their own right. Humans are widely regarded as champion niche constructors, largely as a direct result of our capacity for the cultural transmission of knowledge and its expression in human behavior, engineering, and technology. This raises the question of how human ecological inheritance relates to human cultural inheritance. If NCT is to provide a conceptual framework for the human sciences, then it is important that the relationship between these two legacies is clear. We suggest that cultural processes and cultural inheritance can be viewed as the primary means by which humans engage in the universal process of niche construction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-230
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Theory
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011


  • Cultural inheritance
  • Ecological inheritance
  • Legacy effects
  • Niche construction


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