Components of change in the evolution of learning and unlearned preference

Aimee S. Dunlap, David W. Stephens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Several phenomena in animal learning seem to call for evolutionary explanations, such as patterns of what animals learn and do not learn. While several models consider how evolution should influence learning, we have very little data testing these models. Theorists agree that environmental change is a central factor in the evolution of learning. We describe a mathematical model and an experiment, testing two components of change: reliability of experience and predictability of the best action. Using replicate populations of Drosophila we varied statistical patterns of change across 30 generations. Our results provide the first experimental demonstration that some types of environmental change favour learning while others select against it, giving the first experimental support for a more nuanced interpretation of the selective factors influencing the evolution of learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3201-3208
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1670
StatePublished - Sep 7 2009


  • Drosophila
  • Evolution
  • Experimental evolution
  • Learning

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