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Animal Traditions: Behavioural Inheritance in Evolution Hardcover – 23 Nov 2000


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'This is a timely and thorough account of a neglected field, and will provide fascination and interest to any biologist whose horizons extend beyond the merely molecular.' Dennis Cotton, Biologist

'… this well-written book is certain to fuel an interesting debate in evolutionary science.' Choice

Book Description

Animal Traditions offers an alternative to both the 'selfish gene' and 'meme' views of the world for all evolutionary biologists. By showing how cultural traditions, imparting information from one generation to the next, are vital to birds and mammals, it offers a unified evolutionary and developmental perspective of animal behaviour.

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If you ask a biologist to explain the evolution of the elaborate morning song of a great tit, the subtle food preferences of a domestic mouse, or the efficient hunting techniques of a pack of wolves, what sort of explanation will you get? Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 3 reviews
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Some Excellent Stuff Here 9 Sept. 2001
By Herbert Gintis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The message of this book is that in species with significant behavioral plasticity and ability to learn, there is a coevolution of learned behavior and structure of social interaction on the one hand, and genetic development on the other. The authors justify this message empirically and theoretically, while lamenting the tendency of most animal behaviorists to downplay the importance of learning and the causal feedback from social macrostructure to genetic microstructure.
Chapters 8 and 9 constitute the heart of this book, and Chapter 10 (the final chapter) provides an intelligent and thoughtful commentary on the implications of the book for research and even political philosophy. If I taught a course on animal behavior, I would start with a standard account (e.g., Alcock), but spend a fair amount of time at the end of the course on Chapters 8-10 of this book. The discription of the Baldwin effect, Waddington's empirical research, and the niche construction ideas of Odling-Smee and coauthors is particularly clear, important, and difficult to find elsewhere.
I am much less happy with the first 7 chapters of the book. Indeed, I am not sure who the intended audience is. There are many critiques of standard theories (e.g., inclusive fitness, gene-centered evolution, group selection, evolutionary psychology), but the theories they critique are not systematically presented, and what explanation they give generally appears in footnotes. This indicated the material is not for beginners, but for experts. However, the arguments against these "enemies" will appear sloppy and ill-considered to experts in the field---in sharp contrast to the presentation in the final three chapters.
Some of the critiques of standard theories are completely ignorant and off the mark, such as the critique of parental care theory on p. 166. If an undergraduate student had written that drivel, I would have sent the student back to the drawing board.
So careless are the remarks in these chapters that at times I was convinced they were parodying New Age mindlessness. For instance, the criticize Karl Marx for being a sexist when he wrote "from each according to his ability," showing that he didn't care about women!!! If these foolish authors ever read the work of Marx, they would find Marx, like his contemporary J. S. Mill, to be in the forefront of sexual equality.
In general, the first seven chapters treat theory sloppily, treat evidency sloppily, and treat the relationship between the two sloppily. They often do not present alternative interpretations of their data, they treat other theories as straw men, they demand absolute proof of other theories, but accept offhand observation as "proof" of their own, and they routinely fail to qualify their statements. I would not want students to think this is the way scientists think. It is not.
Moreover, the authors have a strong political axe to grind. They hate "sociobiology" and "evolutionary psychology" as applied to humans. In particular, they believe that all differences among "normal" human individuals is environmentally determined (p. 48). This is my own area of expertise, and I can assure them that their position has virtually no evidence in its favor and a ton of evidence against it (they do not even mention the evidence, for or against, in this case).
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Great book on evolution of animal cultures 6 April 2007
By Gregory Kohn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Ever since the "modern synthesis" other mechanisms in which information can be inherited beyond the gene have been overlooked, or simply under researched. This book is not an outright attack on the importance of the genetics in evolution but an expanded view of the phenotype, inheritance, and how organism can influence there selective environment (see niche constuction). Here Avital and Jablonka present a stimulating look at how behavioral inheritance could drastically change the way we view evolution. Sure to ruffle a few feathers, the authors defend such ideas as group selection and inheritance of "acquired characteristics", yet offer mechanisms for both phenomenon's that are more logical (involving conformist transmission, Baldwin effect and genetic assimilation) then those proposed before (such as Wynne-Edwards model for group selction). A truly groundbreaking book that changed my view of what evolution is, but also how evolution through natural selection can operate. This book will hopefully encourage others to look at animal traditions/cultures more seriously (scientifically and ethically) and lead to exciting new emprical research.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Enjoiable 25 Nov. 2012
By Kari Saarvola, s.c. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Best of the basic books as far I can understand. I`m reading this book almost every day. A very good book
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