Browse results

Bernard Chapais

In this paper I argue that many sociocultural phenomena are best explained by the comparative (phylogenetic) method, which consists of using information on other species, notably our closest relatives, the nonhuman primates, as a means to understand the evolutionary history and biological underpinnings of human traits. The social phenomena considered here embody the unitary social configuration of humankind, the set of traits common to all human societies. Those traits could not be explained by sociocultural anthropology, or the other social sciences, because even though they have a highly variable cultural content, they are not cultural creations but rather the products of human nature, or natural categories. I argue that some of those traits resulted from the cognitive enhancement of specific primate traits in the course of human evolution and others evolved as by-products of the coalescence of several primate traits, and I illustrate each process with a number of examples. I also show that even though many of those traits are crossculturally universal, they need not be: culture may modulate the expression of primate legacies and produce various sociocultural patterns from the same set of universal biological underpinnings, or biological constants. Finally, I discuss the importance for the social sciences of integrating biological constants in their models and theories even when they seek to explain cultural differences.

Julian Z. Xue

A process akin to biological evolution is one of the most promising candidates today for producing a general theory of cultural evolution. Current understanding of this process focuses on both drift as well as the selection of cultural variation as the primary vehicles of cultural change. Here, I show that natural selection can produce cultural change in the direction of the generation of cultural variation. I show how this mechanism can result in long-term cultural trends and how it adds to known mechanisms. I present examples to show how this theory is compatible with documented cultural and historical change.

Michael J. O’Brien, Mark Collard, Briggs Buchanan and Matthew T. Boulanger

Anthropology has always had as one of its goals the explanation of human cultural diversity across space and through time. Over the past several decades, there has been a growing appreciation among anthropologists and other social scientists that the phylogenetic approaches that biologists have developed to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of species are useful tools for building and explaining patterns of human diversity. Phylogenetic methods offer a means of creating testable propositions of heritable continuity – how one thing is related to another in terms of descent. Such methods have now been applied to a wide range of cultural phenomena, including languages, projectile points, textiles, marital customs, and political organization. Here we discuss several cultural phylogenies and demonstrate how they were used to address long-standing anthropological issues. Even keeping in mind that phylogenetic trees are nothing more than hypotheses about evolutionary relationships, some researchers have argued that when it comes to cultural behaviors and their products, tree building is theoretically unwarranted. We examine the issues that critics raise and find that they in no way sound the death knell for cultural phylogenetic work.

Marion Blute

Campbell's “evolutionary epistemology” is used more frequently to refer to extensions of Darwinism than other phrases, and his description of it as “variation and selective retention” is highly cited. However, we can still ask whether it is sufficient. The evidence from his classic essay is that he understood it to include somatic maintenance and reproductive growth, but omitted somatic growth and reproductive maintenance. We describe some of the complexity of the evolutionary ecology of life histories, including ecological and ecological versus social density-dependence and scale-dependence, and find that, interestingly, understood as a distinction between spending and investing, the traditional r versus K density-dependence distinction yields the same pattern of expected life history traits as does scale-dependence (although there should be other ways of distinguishing them). We then use this to fill in the missing somatic growth and offspring maintenance of Campbell's model of sociocultural evolution. In concluding, we emphasize the degree to which not only the evolutionary ecology of life histories but also the logic of population genetics and tree-building have been found relevant to the social sciences. Donald Campbell and David Hull, both now deceased, will be remembered as early modern pioneers of the theory of Darwinian sociocultural evolution.

Editors Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution

Raphael Falk

Life sciences became Biology, like Physics and Chemistry, only in the 19th century, when researchers turned to reductive, determinist experimental methodologies. Whereas theories like that of the cell and that of Faktoren-of-inheritance provided the elementary units of life, Darwinism provided the framework for the diversity of life and its evolution. Only towards the second half of the 20th century did biologists realize that once living systems were constructed, it was systems analysis that became the focus of understanding living structures and functions.

Dan Cohen

A unifying conceptual model is constructed for the major effects of alternating periods of global warming and cooling and sea-level changes on the geographical distributions and the ecological and genetic characteristics of species and ecological communities.

The main results found are:

  1. The species in the interior of continuous global latitude and altitude temperature gradients are expected to follow the moving temperature zones without any major extinctions or any major changes in their physiological and ecological characteristics and adaptive roles during both global warming and global cooling periods, with competitive replacement of resident species by zonally dispersing pre-adapted species.
  2. Many or all of the existing species at all the global cold boundary zones of both latitude and altitude temperature gradients are expected to become extinct during periods of global warming, which would be caused by competitive displacement by immigrating pre-adapted species from adjacent warmer zones.
  3. Most existing species in the warm boundary zones of all the global temperature gradients are predicted to persist and adapt without competition to the increased temperature during periods of global warming, and to diversify by adaptations to newly created ecological opportunities.
  4. Periods of global cooling are predicted to cause analogous opposite effects to the effects of global warming in the cold and warm boundaries of temperature gradients: that is, extinctions at the warm boundaries and persistence and adaptations at the cold boundaries:
  5. Existing species in all islands and island-like isolated areas are predicted to persist in the absence of competitive displacement by immigrating pre-adapted species, and gradually adapt to the changing temperatures during periods of both global warming and global cooling.
  6. During periods of global cooling, many more diverse opportunities for new adaptations and for invasions by pre-adapted species are expected and predicted in the large diversity of the newly open heterogeneous coldest and highest altitude zones of all the global altitude temperature gradients.
  7. Long-term sequences of alternating periods of global warming and global cooling are expected to cancel and eliminate most of the ecological and adaptive changes which have occurred during the previous periods at all the latitude and altitude boundary zones. The species at the interior of continuous temperature gradients are expected to persist unchanged over long evolutionary time during repeated sequences of alternating periods of global warming and global cooling.
  8. The effects of higher and lower global sea levels on the sea shore and intertidal species and communities during periods of global warming or cooling are expected to be analogous to the bio-geographical, ecological and genetic changes caused or predicted by global warming or cooling in the species and communities in terrestrial or marine temperature gradients.
  9. Global sea-level changes which cause higher or lower shifting of the levels of the ecological zones in continuous sea shore gradients are expected therefore to cause continuous tracking and moving of the populations of the unchanged zonally adapted species. On the other hand, zonally adapted sea shore species are expected to be displaced or become extinct during periods of sea-level changes at the higher or lower boundary zones of the sea-level gradients in semi-isolated marine basins, and in locally discontinuous, fragmented or truncated sea shore ecological gradients.

Dan Kerem, Rafi Kent, Mia Roditi-Elasar, Oz Goffman, Aviad Scheinin and Pavel Gol’din

Regional resource limitation in the eastern Levantine Basin was predicted to protract the growth of members of the Israeli sub-population of the common bottlenose dolphin (CBD), compared to CBD sub-populations of similar adult size. Growth curves were fitted to length-at-age data available for 24 male and 26 female CBD stranded or incidentally caught along the Israeli coastline between 2000 and 2009. The obtained model growth constants were compared to those of other CBD sub-populations from the southeastern coast of the United States and a correlation to regional seawater primary productivity was sought. As in other sub-populations, local CBD females initially grow faster than males for approximately 3–4 years and remain longer until around eight years old, after which males surpass them in length. Yet the steep early growth of females as well as its high rate of decay was found to be extreme compared to other CBD sub-populations, with 99% of the asymptotic length being reached at the age of six years. A positive correlation between seawater primary productivity and early growth rate as well as growth decay constants could be demonstrated for CBD males from Texas, Florida and Israeli coasts. Females of the same sub-population presented a non-monotonic relationship to primary productivity. Early female attainment of physical maturity in an ultra-oligotrophic region was unpredicted and is not readily explained. It may accompany early reproductive maturation, selected for as partial compensation for lower lifelong reproductive success.

Akie Sato and Jan Klein

Population genetics of the house mouse, Mus musculus/domesticus, has become a “hot” area of research, in which the biochemical–molecular approach has largely replaced the more traditional morphological–anatomical methods of investigation. In this essay – commemorating Professor Uzi Ritte’s recent passing – the authors, one of whom abandoned mouse genetics some 30 years ago, offer a historical perspective in which they point out the confusion that has accompanied mouse taxonomy from its modern beginnings. They then tender their view of the problems associated with the biochemical–molecular studies of mouse taxonomy and speciation. They conclude with a plea to rely less on abstract models and more on empirical data and mouse biology, and for a return to the Heraclitean–Darwinian view of nature in taxonomy.

Chang Ting Wang, Gen Xu Wang, Wei Liu, Yong Wang, Lei Hu and Li Ma

Grassland restoration, which utilizes agricultural practices (e.g., ploughing, harrowing, and fertilization), can not only change ecosystem processes to support the survival of native plants but can also affect soil microbial biomass and activity. In an artificial grassland established to restore a degraded meadow, parameters including coverage, species richness, diversity, and biomass (including above- and below-ground biomass) generally increased after four years of restoration. Likewise, soil organic matter (SOM), total nitrogen (N), available N, total phosphorus (P), and available P exhibited the same trend. The activities of selected enzymes decreased with soil depth (P < 0.05) and increased during the successional process associated with restoration. Soil enzyme activities were related to the physico-chemical characteristics of the soil and plant primary production. After four years of restoration, the plants and soils were resilient to the grassland restoration process. The results of the present study suggest a significant positive impact of artificial grassland establishment on soil quality. Artificial grassland establishment was an effective measure for restoring heavily degraded alpine meadows in the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau region. The rapid establishment of vegetative cover and plant functional group composition after artificial grassland construction are fundamental for limiting soil erosion and restoring the initial ecosystem function. As soil is a fundamental component of every terrestrial ecosystem, soil restoration is a vital process during ecological restoration. Thus, an increase in the nutrient status of the soil is important for the sustainable development of alpine meadows. The long-term accumulation of SOM, the retention of nutrients, and the buildup of microbial biomass are ultimately attributed to labile carbon input from plant primary production.