Abstracts (first author)

Invited Speaker 

Genetic control of non-genetic inheritance: fact or fallacy?

Author(s): Laland KN, Morgan T, Fogarty L, Mesoudi A, Feldman M, Smith G


The foundation of the Modern Synthesis placed the gene at the centre of evolutionary explanations of biology, largely because at the time Mendelian genetics appeared to be the only general inheritance system. More recently, other non-genetic inheritance (henceforth NGI) systems (epigenetic inheritance, parental effects, ecological inheritance, social transmission and cultural inheritance) have been identified and been found to be widespread, raising questions about whether, and how, non-genetic inheritance might change the character of biological evolution. Here we draw on established empirical and theoretical findings from the cultural evolution, gene-culture coevolution, evolution of plasticity, and niche construction, literatures to illustrate ten ways in which non-genetic inheritance affects biological evolution. These include the findings that NGI systems can generate non-random (adaptive) variants; that they change the rate and dynamics of evolution, the pathways of information flow, and equilibria reached; that they alter the frequencies and spatial distribution of phenotypes; that they can propagate maladaptive variants; and that they change conceptions of fitness. These findings leave untenable the claims that non-genetic inheritance is under genetic control and as a consequence does not change the evolutionary process in biologically meaningful ways. Our analysis supports arguments for a broadening of current conceptions of biological evolution.

Abstracts (coauthor)


Objectives Culture is an important driver of recent biological evolution in humans. The mechanisms by which information is transmitted between individuals can be studied at the population level – by cultural evolutionists, and at the individual level – by social psychologists. We combined methods from these two approaches to investigate how sex differences in confidence might lead to sex differences in the use of a copy-when-uncertain social learning strategy. Methods Participants (Study 1: N=97; Study 2: N=89) completed a series of two-alternative forced-choice puzzles and reported their confidence in each answer. They then saw the decisions of some previous participants before being asked again for their answer. Social information use was inferred when participants switched their answer to match that of the majority. We modelled the probability of social information use with participant sex, confidence in initial decision, and accuracy of initial decision as predictors. Results Across both studies, confidence had a large effect on social information use, indicative of a copy-when-uncertain strategy. Accuracy predicted confidence, indicating that this strategy is adaptive. Confidence also differed by sex: women reported lower confidence (independent of any small sex differences in accuracy), which in turn increased their probability of using social information. Conclusions Although both sexes appear to use a ‘copy-when-uncertain’ strategy, women are more likely to feel uncertain. This means that a strategy observed to be used in a population (e.g. copy-when-uncertain) can vary according to individual differences in psychological traits. Further integration of these two levels of explanation is therefore needed.


Chairman: Octávio S. Paulo
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XIV Congress of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology

Organization Team
Department of Animal Biology (DBA)
Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon
P-1749-016 Lisbon


Computational Biology & Population Genomics Group