Biological Theory

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 220–230

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

Thematic Issue Article: Cultural Niche Construction

DOI: 10.1007/s13752-012-0030-x

Cite this article as:
Odling-Smee, J. & Laland, K.N. Biol Theory (2011) 6: 220. doi:10.1007/s13752-012-0030-x


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.


Cultural inheritance Ecological inheritance Legacy effects Niche construction 

Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognitive Research 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mansfield CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.School of BiologyUniversity of St AndrewsSt Andrews, FifeUK

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