Local convergence of behavior across species

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Science  15 Jan 2021:
Vol. 371, Issue 6526, pp. 292-295
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb7481

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Not so different

Humans often focus on how different we are from other animals. Certainly, there are some important differences, but more and more we are learning that we differ by degree rather than kind. We see these similarities most clearly when we look at human populations that live a more traditional, foraging lifestyle. Barsbai et al. compared more than 300 such foraging human populations with mammal and bird species living in the same environment across a wide array of environmental conditions (see the Perspective by Hill and Boyd). They found that all three groups converged with regard to foraging, social, and reproductive behaviors. Thus, adaptation to environmental selection shapes similar responses across a wide diversity of life forms.

Science, this issue p. 292; see also p. 235


Behavior is a way for organisms to respond flexibly to the environmental conditions they encounter. Our own species exhibits large behavioral flexibility and occurs in all terrestrial habitats, sharing these environments with many other species. It remains unclear to what extent a shared environment constrains behavior and whether these constraints apply similarly across species. Here, we show that foraging human populations and nonhuman mammal and bird species that live in a given environment exhibit high levels of similarity in their foraging, reproductive, and social behaviors. Our findings suggest that local conditions may select for similar behaviors in both humans and nonhuman animals.

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