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Conserving and managing animals that learn socially and share cultures

Abstract

Socially learned behavior can be a crucial factor in how animals interact with their environment and, thus, in conservation and management. For species in which social learning and culture are important determinants of behavior, several factors complicate conservation and management. These include the rapid spread of novel behavior through social learning, the inhibition of adaptive behavior because of cultural conformism, the evolution of maladaptive behavior, and the development of culturally isolated but sometimes sympatric groups. These factors can affect habitat suitability, movements, how animals react to anthropogenic effects, and genetic structures. Social learning and culture may be important factors in translocation success, and should sometimes be considered when delineating population units for conservation and management. We should aim to protect cultural as well as genetic diversity. Unfortunately, clear data on social learning and culture in the wild are scarce. Hence, the ideas and methods outlined in this special issue have great potential.

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Correspondence to Hal Whitehead.

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Thanks to Lance Barrett-Lennard for discussion on the format of the article and to Rachel Kendal and an anonymous reviewer for many suggestions that improved the manuscript.

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Whitehead, H. Conserving and managing animals that learn socially and share cultures. Learning & Behavior 38, 329–336 (2010). https://doi.org/10.3758/LB.38.3.329

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Keywords

  • Social Learning
  • Killer Whale
  • Niche Construction
  • Sperm Whale
  • Humpback Whale