Policy ForumConservation

Animal cultures matter for conservation

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Science  08 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6431, pp. 1032-1034
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw3557

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Animal culture, defined as “information or behavior—shared within a community—which is acquired from conspecifics through some form of social learning” (1), can have important consequences for the survival and reproduction of individuals, social groups, and potentially, entire populations (1, 2). Yet, until recently, conservation strategies and policies have focused primarily on broad demographic responses and the preservation of genetically defined, evolutionarily significant units. A burgeoning body of evidence on cultural transmission and other aspects of sociality (3) is now affording critical insights into what should be conserved (going beyond the protection of genetic diversity, to consider adaptive aspects of phenotypic variation), and why specific conservation programs succeed (e.g., through facilitating the resilience of cultural diversity) while others fail (e.g., by neglecting key repositories of socially transmitted knowledge). Here, we highlight how international legal instruments, such as the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), can facilitate smart, targeted conservation of a wide range of taxa, by explicitly considering aspects of their sociality and cultures.