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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Dr Jeremy Kendal

Kendal, J.R., Rendell, L., Pike, T.W. & Laland, K.N. (2009). Nine-spined sticklebacks deploy a hill-climbing social learning strategy. Behavioral Ecology 20(2): 238-244.

Author(s) from Durham


Theoretical models on the adaptive advantages of social learning lead to the conclusion that copying cannot be indiscriminate and
that individuals should adopt evolved behavioral strategies that dictate the circumstances under which they copy others and from
whom they learn. Strategies that exhibit hill-climbing properties, that would allow a population of individuals to converge on the
fitness-maximizing behavior over repeated learning events, are of particular significance due to their potentially critical role in
cumulative cultural evolution. Here, we provide experimental evidence that nine-spined sticklebacks (Pungitius pungitius) use public
information adaptively and in accordance with a hill-climbing social learning strategy. Sticklebacks switch patch preferences to
exploit a more profitable food patch if the returns to demonstrator fish are greater than their own but are less likely to copy when
low-profitability patches are demonstrated. These findings reinforce the argument that public-information use in nine-spined
sticklebacks is an adaptive specialization. More generally, the observation of this sophisticated form of learning in a species of fish
supports the view that the presence of enhanced social learning may be predicted better by specific sources of selection than
by relatedness to humans.