Prior to the contribution of genetics or the modern evolutionary synthesis (MES)to natural selection theory, social ecologists searched for factors in addition to natural selection that could influence species change. The idea that sociality, not just biology, was important in determining evolutionary outcomes was prevalent in research in social ecology in the 1920s and 1930s. The influence of ‘tradition’ (or the transmission of learned behaviours between generations) and the view that animals are active in selecting their own environments,rather than passive organisms acted upon by chance, were given as much attention as natural selection theory in European ecology,while animal aggregation and cooperation studies were pursued in America. Imanishi Kinji’s personal library and his scientific notes and papers reveal that he was well aware of this literature and had been profoundly influenced by these earlier viewpoints prior to writing his view of nature in his first book, Seibutsu no Sekai (The World of Living Things,1941). Evidence is presented to show that he developed his theories based partly on early western debates in social ecology while finding inspiration and a way to express his views in the writings of philosopher Nishida Kitaro and, perhaps, General J C Smuts. One of Imanishi’s lasting contributions is in the demonstrated results of over 40 years of subsequent ecological and ethological research by Imanishi and those trained by him that maintained the broader viewpoints on evolution that had been dropped from the western corpus of research by the 1950s. The current attempt to again get beyond natural selection theory is reflected in debates surrounding genetic and cultural evolution of cooperation,the biology of ‘traditions’ and the idea of ‘culture’ in animal societies.
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