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How the social lives of animals should form part of our conservation culture

Evidence of social learning can be seen in the depths of the oceans, in deserts and on mountain tops. It is an important mechanism across the natural world, helping organisms adapt to changes in their environment.

PHILIPPA BRAKES: ‘Shared knowledge is an important currency for humans… Some things we learn individually, some things we learn socially… Social information can operate both within and between different generations, and is vital in shaping how animals response to their ever changing world… Research shows that social learning is widespread across a wide variety of wildlife, from birds to elephants, from fish to meerkats…

Evidence for social learning can be seen in the depths of the oceans, in deserts and on mountain tops. It is an important mechanism across the natural world, helping organisms adapt to changes in their environment. These adaptations often occur much more swiftly than in the slower process of natural selection, which brings about incremental change between generations…

The idea that other species have rich social lives, which includes some socially learned, collective ways of behaving that differentiate social groups, seems like a significant philosophical leap. But the evidence is now unequivocal that humans are not alone in having distinct cultures.

The revelation of animal cultures raises a number of both ethical and scientific questions. But from a practical perspective, what does the existence of animal culture mean for our efforts to conserve the natural world?… Beginning a serious dialogue on animal culture represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of what exactly biodiversity is. In addition to genes, specific kinds of behaviour are also an important aspect of the rich diversity of our planet.

In order to work towards conserving genetic diversity, we must now also work towards maintaining animal cultural diversity across different ecosystems. This is the challenge that lies ahead for global environmental agreements – a culture of conservation that respects the cultures of the natural world’. SOURCE…

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