UCL Logo

Partha Mitra

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, USA


Wednesday 26 November 2008


Seminar Room B10 (Basement)

Alexandra House, 17 Queen Square, London, WC1N 3AR


Evolution of Song Culture in the Zebra Finch

Would culture resembling existing ones evolve in an island colony of naïve founders? This cannot be studied experimentally in humans; we performed the analogous experiment using socially learned birdsong, an ethological model of culture. We quantified songs from zebra finch isolates unexposed to song (ISO), and a second group with exposure to wild-type song culture in laboratory colonies (WT). ISO and WT songs formed distinct clusters in feature space. We created multigenerational tutor-pupil lineages from isolate founders. Both for tutor-pupil only and multi-individual social settings, songs evolved from the ISO towards the WT cluster in 3-4 generations. Therefore, species-typical song culture can evolve de novo. Based on a recursive, parental effects model from quantitative genetics, we suggest that song culture may be modeled as a multigenerational phenotype, implicitly encoded genetically in the founders and unfolding over several generations. Parallels exist with models of cultural and linguistic evolution.