Skip to main content

Table 4 Selected factors that affect knowledge distribution and/or transmission in social-ecological systems and the possible contributions of cultural evolution (CE) to their study

From: Evolutionary ethnobiology and cultural evolution: opportunities for research and dialog

Processes and factors that affect natural resource knowledge and use Central questions in ethnobiology Examples of studies with this focus Contributions of CE to the understanding of these questions Questions for future studies
Population migration How does the knowledge repertoire of migrant populations vary in newly occupied environments? [48, 52, 92, 93] Human migration promotes the migration of cultural traits and increases the variation in information; it can also homogenize a population by eliminating different equilibria. Which transmission biases affect migrant populations when they move to a new environment? How does the transmission between native and migrant populations occur? Is the rate of guided variation higher in a migrant population?
Gender Does traditional ecological knowledge vary between genders? [72, 75, 77] Model biases may lead individuals to copy only people of the same or opposite gender. Are there cultural traits that are preferentially copied from women? From men? “Does knowledge homogeneity vary between genders?”
Age Do older people possess more local ecological knowledge? Does this phenomenon result in a loss of information in the population over time? [71, 72] Model biases may lead individuals to copy older people because their age and life experience provide a stronger knowledge framework. However, this greater knowledge does not necessarily indicate an information base that confers the highest fitness. Younger people may possess less information, but this phenomenon may represent gradual changes in the information repertoire rather than less knowledge. Are there cultural traits that are preferentially copied from older people? Does the knowledge differ between younger and older people? Do the cultural traits that are exhibited by older people have a lower adaptive fitness in the current environment?
Ethnicity Do different ethnic groups develop different ways of relating with the available resources? [92, 93] Several cultural selection biases, such as model biases, lead to heterogeneity of information among different ethnic groups that share the same environment, while other cultural biases that relate to environmental responses, such as content biases, lead to a homogenization of cultural traits among different ethnic groups that share the same environment. Are the differences among different ethnic groups that share the same environment higher for cultural traits that are associated with model biases compared to traits associated with content biases?
Income Does higher income result in a higher or lower dependency on natural resources, thus reflecting differences in knowledge? [94, 95] Context biases lead people to choose information that is more adaptive to their living conditions. Differences in income result in different cultural trait selection biases, which result in population heterogeneity. Are people with high incomes in a human population models for copying adaptive information? Are the cultural traits that are associated with people with lower incomes copied less often?
Educational level Can access to higher education affect local ecological knowledge? [73, 96] Higher education reflects access to new cultural traits, which can compete with the cultural traits of local ecological knowledge and may be selected due to model or content biases. Can the promotion of formal education in human populations lead to a reduction in cultural traits that are associated with natural resource use?
Urbanization Can access to the knowledge and services that originate from urbanization promote a decrease in knowledge regarding natural resources? [30, 97] Urbanization introduces variations in cultural traits through migration. Many of these new traits compete with preexisting cultural traits. Does the information that originates from urbanization occupy the same cultural domain as preexisting traits? How do these distinct cultural traits (which result from urbanization and social-ecological systems) interact over time?
Human perception How does human perception of the environment affect the resources that will be known or used? [98, 99] Different people may have different cultural selection biases and different transmission pathways that depend on their individual or social perception. Therefore, perception affects the mechanisms that are used by people to recognize the more adaptive information. How does the perception of a given resource or cultural trait affect the copying of information? Are the natural resources that are similarly perceived by different human populations used for the same purposes?
Knowledge transmission How does the process of knowledge transmission occur? How do different transmission pathways generate changes in knowledge? [5, 6, 69, 70] Different transmission pathways result in different speeds of information transmission within a system. How does knowledge transmission occur in different environments? Which cultural traits tend to be conserved? If these pathways remain predominant in the system, how does knowledge within the system occur over time?