Tempo and modes of cultural evolution in the complex display of the superb lyrebird (NSF GRANT #1730791)
Explaining natural patterns of phenotypic variation through space and time is a fundamental problem in evolutionary biology, yet conventional models of genetic evolution often fall short in explaining variation in behavioral phenotypes, particularly in those that are learned. Social transmission of learned behaviors can often lead to ‘cultures’ characterized by the conformity of behavioral variants within groups (such as family groups or populations) but large differences in behavioral phenotypes among groups. However, such non-random patterns in behavioral variants can also result from genetic or environmental factors, and the extent to which social transmission shapes behavioral repertories in wild animals is still poorly understood. In practice, processes of both cultural and genetic change need to be considered simultaneously in order to develop a holistic understanding of the evolution of complex learned traits.
What mechanisms or processes (modes) drive the rates (tempos) of cultural evolution is a key question in the study of complex learned behaviors, but with the exception of work on humans (e.g., language) this has rarely been addressed in natural systems. Recent advances in bioacoustics and landscape genomics mean that it is now possible, for the first time, to investigate patterns of cultural evolution of complex learned traits within a single species across its entire range.
Aims & Objectives
To investigate cultural evolution in the elaborate audiovisual display of the superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae), a highly versatile avian vocal mimic.
The superb lyrebird provides a particularly powerful and tractable model system for investigating tempo and mode in cultural evolution in the wild, exhibiting extensive geographic variation in song structure, exceptional capacity for mimetic learning, and a complex multicomponent-multimodal display.
We will perform quantitative analyses of the cultural, genetic, and ecological drivers of the naturally observed display variation, and capitalize on a ‘natural experiment’ created by the translocation of lyrebirds to the extralimital island of Tasmania. In addition, we will perform field-based social transmission experiments to test hypotheses for the cultural mechanisms underlying display evolution.
USA: Prof Irby Lovette (Cornell University); Dr Aaron Rice (Cornell University); Prof Mike Webster (Cornell University)
Australia: Dr Anastasia Dalziell (University of Wollongong); Dr Justin Welbergen (Western Sydney University)
Collaborators: Prof Rob Magrath (Australian National University); Alex Maisey (La Trobe University); Karan Odom (Cornell University)
Affiliated student Projects
- Botero, C. A., Boogert, N. J. , Vehrencamp, S. L. & Lovette, I. J. (2009) Climatic patterns predict the elaboration of song displays in songbirds. Current Biology 9, 1151-1155.
- Dalziell, A. H. & Magrath, R. D. (2012). Fooling the experts: accurate vocal mimicry in the song of the superb lyrebird. Animal Behaviour, 83, pp. 1401-1410.
- Dalziell, A. H. & Welbergen, J. A. (2016) Mimicry for all modalities. Ecology Letters, 19, pp. 609-619.
- Dalziell, A. H., Welbergen, J. A., Igic, B. & Magrath, R. D. (2015) Avian vocal mimicry: a unified conceptual framework. Biological Reviews, 90:643-668.
- Dalziell, A. H., Peters, R. A., Cockburn, A., Dorland, A., Maisey, A. C., & Magrath, R. D. (2013) Dance choreography is coordinated with song repertoire in a complex avian display. Current Biology, 23, pp. 1132-1135. [cover feature] video abstract
- Davies, N. B. & Welbergen, J. A. (2009) Social transmission of a host defense against cuckoo parasitism. Science 324, 1318-1320 (authors contributed equally to this work)
- Greig, E.I. & Webster M. S. (2013) Spatial decoupling of song and plumage generates novel phenotypes between two avian subspecies Behavioral Ecology 24: 1004-1013.
- McDonald, E.M., Morano, J.L., DeAngelis A.I., & Rice A.N. (2017) Building time-budgets from bioacoustic signals to measure population-level changes in behavior: a case-study with Gulf of Mexico sperm whales. Ecological Indicators 72: 360-364.
- McIver, E. L., Marchaterre, M. A., Rice, A. N., Bass A. H. (2014) Novel underwater soundscape: acoustic repertoire of plainfin midshipman fish. Journal of Experimental Biology 217: 2377-2389.
- Vortman, Y., Lotem, A. Dor, R., Lovette, I. J. & Safran R. J. (2013) Multiple sexual signals and behavioral reproductive isolation in a diverging population. American Naturalist 182, 514-523.