Distributed Adaptations: Can a Species Be Adapted While No Single Individual Carries the Adaptation?

Ehud Lamm*, Oren Kolodny*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Species’ adaptation to their environments occurs via a range of mechanisms of adaptation. These include genetic adaptations as well as non-traditional inheritance mechanisms such as learned behaviors, niche construction, epigenetics, horizontal gene transfer, and alteration of the composition of a host’s associated microbiome. We propose to supplement these with another modality of eco-evolutionary dynamics: cases in which adaptation to the environment occurs via what may be called a “distributed adaptation,” in which the adaptation is not conferred via something carried by an individual of the adapted species (as with genes, behavior, or associated microbes), but by some structural or compositional aspect of the population. Put differently, the adaptively relevant information cannot be reduced to information possessed by a single individual, whether genetic or otherwise. Rather, the adaptively relevant information is distributed, and is found strictly at the population level. While human culture is presumably such a case, as may be cases found in social insects, we want to suggest that there are other cases that belong to this category and to explore its evolutionary implications. In particular, we discuss the factors that affect whether adaptive information is stored in a distributed way, to what degree, and what kinds of adaptive information are most likely to be found in this modality of adaptation.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number791104
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - 14 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Lamm and Kolodny.


  • adaptation
  • collective behavior
  • collective decision making
  • collective memory
  • cultural evolution
  • information theory
  • major transitions
  • social learning


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