Nav: Home

Cultural diversity in chimpanzees

May 26, 2020

The transmission of cultures from generation-to-generation is only found in a few species besides humans. Chimpanzees are one such species and exhibit a large diversity of cultural and tool use behaviours. Although these behaviours have been well documented at a handful of long term research sites, the true cultural repertoire of chimpanzees across populations is still poorly understood. To better understand this diversity, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, initiated the 'Pan African Programme: The Cultured Chimpanzee' (PanAf) in 2010. Using a standardized protocol, researchers set up camera traps, collected samples and recorded ecological data at over 40 temporary and long-term research sites across Africa.

Prior to this study, termite fishing was thought to occur in only two forms with one or multiple tools, from either above-ground or underground termite nests. By carefully observing the techniques required to termite fish at ten different sites, lead author Christophe Boesch created a catalogue of behaviours (ethogram) for each chimpanzee in the study.

What was found was 38 different technical elements making up the various termite fishing techniques, all of which were combined in different ways in each of the chimpanzee communities. In addition, individuals in the same community shared more of the termite fishing technical elements, and unique combinations of the technical elements, when compared to chimpanzees from other groups.

Surprising diversity

"The diversity of techniques seen in chimpanzee termite fishing was a huge surprise to me. Not only does each community have a very unique way of fishing, they also combine a number of different elements into specific termite fishing etiquettes", explains Christophe Boesch."The most striking examples of this are how the Wonga Wongue chimpanzees of Gabon usually lie down on their sides to termite fish, while the Korup chimpanzees in Cameroon lean on their elbows, and the ones from Goualougo in the Republic of Congo sit while fishing."

Because the communities of chimpanzees live in similar habitats with access to the same resources, ecological differences could mostly be ruled out to explain the observed differences. "This supports the idea that chimpanzees are capable of imitating social techniques in 'how to termite fish' which goes beyond alternative explanations such as each individual reinventing termite fishing each time they learn it", explains co-author Ammie Kalan.

Conforming to the group

Much like in human etiquette, not everything is about increased efficiency but rather about conforming to what the rest of the group is doing. In humans, this is observed in the different chopstick cultures across Asia. "For example, in Thailand and Japan not only are chopsticks somehow shaped differently, but the way they hold them differ as well, and this is very reminiscent of what we see here with chimpanzees. In La Belgique in Cameroon, chimpanzees fashion their stick by opening the fibers to obtain a long brush and then rest the termite-covered stick on their wrist while they eat. On the other hand, at another site in Cameroon called Korup, the chimpanzees do not make a brush at all and use their mouth to shake the inserted stick while it is in the mound", explains Christophe Boesch.

In humans, cultural variation has been documented in hundreds of different populations which is one explanation for why chimpanzee culture seems so limited in comparison. "What we knew before about chimpanzees came from at most 15 communities", notes co-author Hjalmar Kuehl. "Through the PanAf we have been able to study many more communities and by this we are able to learn more about the richness of chimpanzee diversity and culture and could demonstrate that there is so much more to discover out there."

Further analyses of videos and other data collected from the PanAf are currently underway. "Termite fishing and other cultural behaviours of wild chimpanzees can be observed first hand by signing onto our citizen science platform Chimp&See", says co-author Mimi Arandjelovic. "At Chimp&See citizen scientists can watch the over one million video clips the PanAf has recorded from all across Africa of chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants, buffalo, leopards and many more species. Visit http://www.chimpandsee.org and you could be a citizen scientist contributing to analyzing data and help with further discoveries in the wild!"
-end-
Original publication:

Christophe Boesch et al.
Chimpanzee Ethnography Reveals Unexpected Cultural Diversity
Nature Human Behaviour, 25 May 2020

Contact:

Prof. Dr. Christophe Boesch
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig
+49 341 3550-200
boesch@eva.mpg.de

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Related Chimpanzees Articles:

Like humans, chimpanzees can suffer for life if orphaned before adulthood
A new study from the Tai Chimpanzee Project in Ivory Coast and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, shows that orphaned male chimpanzees are less competitive and have fewer offspring of their own than those who continue to live with their mothers.
For chimpanzees, salt and pepper hair not a marker of old age
Silver strands and graying hair is a sign of aging in humans, but things aren't so simple for our closest ape relatives--the chimpanzee.
In the wild, chimpanzees are more motivated to cooperate than bonobos
Scientists investigated cooperation dynamics in wild chimpanzees (Tai, Ivory Coast) and bonobos (LuiKotale, DCR) using a snake model.
A rare heart bone is discovered in chimpanzees
Experts from the University of Nottingham have discovered that some chimpanzees have a bone in their heart, which could be vital in managing their health and conservation.
In chimpanzees, females contribute to the protection of the territory
Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, extensively studied several neighboring groups of western chimpanzees and their findings reveal that females and even the entire group may play a more important role in between-group competition than previously thought.
Cultural diversity in chimpanzees
Termite fishing by chimpanzees was thought to occur in only two forms with one or multiple tools, from either above-ground or underground termite nests.
Similar to humans, chimpanzees develop slowly
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have systematically investigated developmental milestones in wild chimpanzees of the Taï National Park (Ivory Coast) and found that they develop slowly, requiring more than five years to reach key motor, communication and social milestones.
The genome of chimpanzees and gorillas could help to better understand human tumors
A new study by researchers from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), a joint center of UPF and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), shows that, surprisingly, the distribution of mutations in human tumors is more similar to that of chimpanzees and gorillas than that of humans.
Crops provide chimpanzees with more energy than wild foods
A University of Kent study has found that cultivated foods offer chimpanzees in West Africa more energetic benefits than wild foods available in the region.
The growing pains of orphan chimpanzees
Using long-term behavioral and hormonal data from wild chimpanzees in the Taï Forest, Côte d'Ivoire, researchers from the Taï Chimpanzee Project at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, have revealed that mothers may be shaping pre-adult growth and offspring muscle mass even without direct provisioning.
More Chimpanzees News and Chimpanzees Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.