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Cultural innovation and transmission of tool use in wild chimpanzees: evidence from field experiments

Dora Biro, Noriko Inoue-Nakamura, Rikako Tonooka, Gen Yamakoshi, Claudia Sousa, Tetsuro Matsuzawa

Animal Cognition, Volume 6, Number 4, 213-223, doi: 10.1007/s10071-003-0183-x


Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are the most proficient and versatile users of tools in the wild. How such skills become integrated into the behavioural repertoire of wild chimpanzee communities is investigated here by drawing together evidence from three complementary approaches in a group of oil-palm nut- (Elaeis guineensis) cracking chimpanzees at Bossou, Guinea. First, extensive surveys of communities adjacent to Bossou have shown that population-specific details of tool use, such as the selection of species of nuts as targets for cracking, cannot be explained purely on the basis of ecological differences. Second, a 16-year longitudinal record tracing the development of nut-cracking in individual chimpanzees has highlighted the importance of a critical period for learning (3–5 years of age), while the similar learning contexts experienced by siblings have been found to result in near-perfect (13 out of 14 dyads) inter-sibling correspondence in laterality. Third, novel data from field experiments involving the introduction of unfamiliar species of nuts to the Bossou group illuminates key aspects of both cultural innovation and transmission. We show that responses of individuals toward the novel items differ markedly with age, with juveniles being the most likely to explore. Furthermore, subjects are highly specific in their selection of conspecifics as models for observation, attending to the nut-cracking activities of individuals in the same age group or older, but not younger than themselves. Together with the phenomenon of inter-community migration, these results demonstrate a mechanism for the emergence of culture in wild chimpanzees.


Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus), Tool use, Social transmission, Culture