There is an increasing body of evidence for the existence of animal cultures. Recent work has also suggested cultural traits can be subject to selection, changing in form, function or distribution. Yet we still have relatively little empirical evidence for 1) how such processes operate, and 2) how it may interact with social and physical environments. Here, I broaden the scope to present an “evolutionary ecology of culture”, using evidence and examples from our studies on foraging traditions in birds. I ask questions like: When do innovations spread and persist? How do social networks, demographics and the environment shape learning? How and when do cultures change? I finish by discussing how the spread of innovations and cultural inheritance of knowledge might have important implications for behavioural flexibility under human-induced environmental change.
Lucy is a cognitive ecologist, studying how animals acquire, process and use information to adapt to their environment. She did her Ph.D. at the Australian National University and co-supervised at ANU and the University of Oxford, and then remained at Oxford first as a postdoc and then as a Junior Research Fellow at St John’s College. Since 2018, Lucy has held a Max Planck Group Leader Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour, where she heads the Cognitive & Cultural Ecology Research Group. Her research group focuses on the interplay between social networks, cognition and culture in parids and parrots.