Competition for Resources Can Promote the Divergence of Social Learning Phenotypes


Social learning occurs when animals acquire knowledge or skills by observing or interacting with others and is the fundamental building block of culture. Within populations, some individuals use social learning more frequently than others, but why social learning phenotypes differ among individuals is poorly understood. We modelled the evolution of social learning frequency in a system where foragers compete for resources, and there are many different foraging options to learn about. Social learning phenotypes diverged when some options offered much better rewards than others and expected rewards changed moderately quickly over time. When options offered similar rewards or when rewards changed slowly, a single social learning phenotype evolved. This held for fixed and simple conditional social learning rules. Sufficiently complex conditional social learning rules prevented the divergence of social learning phenotypes under all conditions. Our results explain how competition can promote the divergence of social learning phenotypes.

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences