Fruit flies can transmit their sexual preferences culturally

November 30, 2018, CNRS
Fruit flies can transmit their sexual preferences culturally
'Learning' situation: two 'observer' females watch a green male copulating with a 'demonstrator' female, as a pink male is rejected. Credit: David Duneau/Science

Researchers from the CNRS and Université Toulouse III - Paul Sabatier (UT3) report that fruit flies possess the cognitive capacity to culturally transmit their sexual preferences across generations. The study, published on November 30, 2018 in Science, provides the first experimental toolbox for studying the existence of animal cultures, thereby opening up an entire field of research.

While the cultural process is often thought of as unique to humans, the existence of persistent behavioral variation that cannot be ascribed to genetic or ecological variation in primates or birds strongly suggests the possible existence of cultural within certain vertebrate species. For the first time, researchers from the Évolution et Diversité Biologique (CNRS/UT3/IRD) laboratory of the Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale (CNRS/UT3), along with their international collaborators, have demonstrated that all of the mechanisms required for cultural transmission actually exist in the fruit fly.

Drosophila, commonly called fruit flies, are known for their capacity to learn and copy the sexual preferences of their conspecifics after observing them copulating. But can this transmission be considered as "cultural?" In order to find out, the researchers tested the five criteria that must be met in order for a behavioral pattern to be deemed culturally transmitted: (1) the behavior must be learned socially by observing conspecifics, (2) be copied from , (3) be memorized over the long term, (4) involve characteristics of individuals, such as their color, rather than the individuals themselves; and (5) be conformist, which is to say that the individuals learn the most common behavior in the population. Against all expectations, the team revealed that the learning of sexual preferences among meets all five criteria.

Computer simulations also showed that these characteristics could actually lead to the emergence of long-lasting cultural traditions along transmission chains, in which the observers from one transmission step become the demonstrators for the ensuing transmission step. The authors finally compared these simulations with experimental transmission chains, and observed a perfect match between model predictions and . In addition, the researchers demonstrated the key role of conformism in fostering long-lasting local traditions.

Fruit flies thus have all of the social learning capacities that to lead to the emergence of long-lasting cultural traditions. These results considerably widen the taxonomical range of the cultural process, and suggest that contrary to widely held belief, cultural heredity could affect the evolution of a very large number of animal species well beyond a few vertebrates with high cognitive capacities, such as primates and birds.

Explore further: Fruit fly species can learn each other's dialects

More information: E. Danchin el al., "Cultural flies: Conformist social learning in fruit flies predicts long-lasting mate-choice traditions," Science (2018). science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aat1590

Related Stories

Fruit fly species can learn each other's dialects

July 19, 2018

Fruit flies from different species can warn each other when parasitic wasps are near. But according to a new study led by Balint Z. Kacsoh of Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, published July 19th in PLOS Genetics, they ...

Pathology and social interactions—safety in numbers

September 4, 2018

What if social behavior affected the progression of even noncontagious diseases? This has now been demonstrated by French CNRS teams and international collaborators. Using a fly model of intestinal cancer, the researchers ...

Fruit flies learn from others

November 17, 2014

Fruit flies do not always conform to the norm. When female fruit flies have to decide where to lay their eggs, they take their lead from what they see most others in their group do. However, some do take their personal preferences ...

Recommended for you

How our cellular antennas are formed

January 17, 2019

Most of our cells contain an immobile primary cilium, an antenna used to transfer information from the surrounding environment. Some cells also have many mobile cilia that are used to generate movement. The 'skeleton' of ...

Individual lichens can have up to three fungi, study shows

January 17, 2019

Individual lichens may contain up to three different fungi, according to new research from an international team of researchers. This evidence provides new insight into another recent discovery that showed lichen are made ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.