Culture and conformity shape fruitfly mating

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Science  30 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6418, pp. 998-999
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav5674

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Culture pervades every aspect of human lives, its achievements providing a compelling explanation for our species' domination of the planet (1). Defined as the matrix of traditions built by previous generations and inherited by social learning, culture was long thought to be uniquely human. In recent decades, however, mounting evidence for culture defined in this way has accumulated for numerous vertebrate species and an expanding diversity of behaviors (2). Examples include migratory knowledge in bighorn sheep (3); foraging techniques in humpback whales (4), great tits (5), and bumble bees (6); and tool use in apes (2). These discoveries suggest that although human culture has developed unprecedented complexities, it evolved from more elementary forms shared with other species. On page 1025 of this issue, Danchin et al. (7) offer evidence that a species that may surprise many should be added to this growing animal “culture club”: the humble fruitfly. They show that the mating preferences of female fruitflies are strongly influenced by the existing preferences they observe in other females, generating traditions that are repeatedly passed on to others and spread in the population. Animal culture may be a much more widespread phenomenon than hitherto acknowledged.