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Curr Biol. 2007 Jun 19;17(12):1038-43. Epub 2007 Jun 7.

Transmission of multiple traditions within and between chimpanzee groups.

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Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution and Scottish Primate Research Group, School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9JP, United Kingdom.


Field reports provide increasing evidence for local behavioral traditions among fish, birds, and mammals. These findings are significant for evolutionary biology because social learning affords faster adaptation than genetic change and has generated new (cultural) forms of evolution. Orangutan and chimpanzee field studies suggest that like humans, these apes are distinctive among animals in each exhibiting over 30 local traditions. However, direct evidence is lacking in apes and, with the exception of vocal dialects, in animals generally for the intergroup transmission that would allow innovations to spread widely and become evolutionarily significant phenomena. Here, we provide robust experimental evidence that alternative foraging techniques seeded in different groups of chimpanzees spread differentially not only within groups but serially across two further groups with substantial fidelity. Combining these results with those from recent social-diffusion studies in two larger groups offers the first experimental evidence that a nonhuman species can sustain unique local cultures, each constituted by multiple traditions. The convergence of these results with those from the wild implies a richness in chimpanzees' capacity for culture, a richness that parsimony suggests was shared with our common ancestor.

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