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An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Another Boost for Chimp Culture
22 August 2005 (All day)
Chimpanzees may not have literature and ballet, but some researchers suspect that our close primate kin do have cultural traditions for behaviors such as tool use and grooming. Now a study provides the strongest evidence yet that chimps can learn traditions of tool use by observation. The authors say their work also reveals another trait previously seen only in humans: a tendency to conform to community standards.
Primatologists have catalogued dozens of behavioral differences among wild chimp populations. Chimps in one forest may use a certain technique to catch ants with a stick, for example, while a population in another forest uses another technique (Science, 25 June 1999, p. 2070). But critics have argued that to qualify as cultural traditions, such habits must be learned from fellow chimps--and that's been difficult to demonstrate in the wild, says Andrew Whiten at the University of St. Andrews in Fife, U.K.
Whiten and colleagues turned instead to two groups of captive chimps at Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia. They selected a high-ranking female from each of two groups of 16 Yerkes chimps and gave them private lessons on using a stick to obtain food from a specially designed dispenser. One female learned a 'poke' technique, the other learned a 'lift' technique. Back in their respective groups, each female's peers took notice of how she worked the dispenser, and the vast majority adopted her technique, the team reports online 21 August in Nature. Even when some of the chimps independently discovered a better method, they tended to stick with what the rest of the group was doing. This suggests they were eager to conform, says Whiten.
Some chimp culture skeptics have been convinced, saying the study provides strong evidence that chimps have traditions they learn by observation. "I've been looking for this for 10 years," says Bennett Galef an animal behaviorist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. Galef and others are less compelled by the claims regarding the chimps' conformist tendencies, however. Carel van Schaik, a biological anthropologist at the University of Zürich in Switzerland points out that chimps observe their group's favored technique more frequently, so their behavior could reflect what they've seen rather than a tendency to conform.