• cultural evolution;
  • gene-culture coevolution;
  • genetic diversity;
  • whale;
  • matriline


Cultural hitchhiking is the process by which cultural selection reduces the diversity of genes that are being transmitted in parallel to selective cultural traits. I use simulation models to investigate cultural hitchhiking in geographically unstructured populations of culturally homogeneous tribes. Substantial reduction of genetic diversity required: a reasonably low mutation rate; that tribes split fairly frequently when they constitute a substantial part of the population; a fairly low migration rate (<∼10 migrants per tribe per generation); only a low rate of cultural evolution (mean culturally determined fitness change >∼0.005%/ generation); and that cultural assimilation from other tribes change the fitness of a tribe less than cultural innovation within it. Cultural hitchhiking tends to increase mean tribe size. Measures of genetic and cultural variation among tribes poorly indicate past cultural hitchhiking. Demographic effects, in which tribal fitness varies but is not heritable, can also reduce a population's genetic diversity if the fitness varies very considerably, or tribal extirpation is added. In such cases populations frequently become extinct. Four species of matrilineal whales have remarkably low mitochondrial DNA diversity. Knowledge of the population and social structure of these species is consistent with the conditions for cultural hitchhiking. However, there remain important information gaps.