The secret call of the wild: how animals teach each other to survive

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The secret call of the wild: how animals teach each other to survive

Carl Safina

Quote:Cultural knowledge, passed from animal to animal, is key to how species adapt to change in the world around them

Quote:For 30 years or so scientists have referred to the diversity of life on Earth as “biological diversity”, or just “biodiversity”. They usually define biodiversity as operating at three levels: the diversity of genes within any particular species; the diversity of species in a given place; and the diversity of habitat types such as forests, coral reefs, and so on. But does that cover it? Not really. A fourth level has been almost entirely overlooked: cultural diversity.

Culture is knowledge and skills that flow socially from individual to individual and generation to generation. It’s not in genes. Socially learned skills, traditions and dialects that answer the question of “how we live here” are crucial to helping many populations survive – or recover. Crucially, culturally learned skills vary from place to place. In the human family many cultures, underappreciated, have been lost. Culture in the other-than-human world has been almost entirely missed.

We are just recognising that in many species, survival skills must be learned from elders who learned from their elders. Until now, culture has remained a largely hidden, unrecognised layer of wild lives. Yet for many species culture is both crucial and fragile. Long before a population declines to numbers low enough to seem threatened with extinction, their special cultural knowledge, earned and passed down over long generations, begins disappearing. Recovery of lost populations then becomes much more difficult than bringing in a few individuals and turning them loose.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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