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Social influence on the expression of robbing and bartering behaviours in Balinese long-tailed macaques

Abstract

Animals use social information, available from conspecifics, to learn and express novel and adaptive behaviours. Amongst social learning mechanisms, response facilitation occurs when observing a demonstrator performing a behaviour temporarily increases the probability that the observer will perform the same behaviour shortly after. We studied “robbing and bartering” (RB), two behaviours routinely displayed by free-ranging long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) at Uluwatu Temple, Bali, Indonesia. When robbing, a monkey steals an inedible object from a visitor and may use this object as a token by exchanging it for food with the temple staff (bartering). We tested whether the expression of RB-related behaviours could be explained by response facilitation and was influenced by model-based biases (i.e. dominance rank, age, experience and success of the demonstrator). We compared video-recorded focal samples of 44 witness individuals (WF) immediately after they observed an RB-related event performed by group members, and matched-control focal samples (MCF) of the same focal subjects, located at similar distance from former demonstrators (N = 43 subjects), but in the absence of any RB-related demonstrations. We found that the synchronized expression of robbing and bartering could be explained by response facilitation. Both behaviours occurred significantly more often during WF than during MCF. Following a contagion-like effect, the rate of robbing behaviour displayed by the witness increased with the cumulative rate of robbing behaviour performed by demonstrators, but this effect was not found for the bartering behaviour. The expression of RB was not influenced by model-based biases. Our results support the cultural nature of the RB practice in the Uluwatu macaques.

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Acknowledgements

For this study, J.-B.L. was funded by a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (Grant No. 2015-06034), a Major Grant from the Alberta Gambling Research Institute (Grant No. G00003422), a research allowance from the Office of the Dean of Arts and Science at the University of Lethbridge, and a University of Lethbridge Research Fund (Grant No. G00002931); F.B. was funded by the Leopold III Fund for the Exploration and Conservation of Nature (Belgium) and the Marie Derscheid-Delcourt Grant from the Belgian Federation of Graduated Women. We are very grateful to the Indonesian Ministry of Research and Technology, Mr. Sri Wahyono, and the Uluwatu Temple management committee for permission to conduct this research in Indonesia.

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Correspondence to Fany Brotcorne.

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Human and animal rights statement

This research was exclusively observational and non-invasive, focusing on the spontaneous expression of behaviours by free-ranging macaques. The animals observed in the study were already habituated to human presence. This research protocol was approved by the Animal Welfare Committee of The University of Lethbridge (Protocol #1430), and adhered to the ASAB/ABS Guidelines for the use of Animal in Research. Our study was conducted with research permission from the Indonesian Ministry of Research and Technology (F.B.: #328/SIP/FRP/E5/Dit.KI/IX/2015; A.H.: #410/SIP/FRP/E5/Dit.KI/X/2015, L.J.-S.: #76/SIP/FRP/E5/ Dit.KI/XII/2015), related Indonesian government and provincial agencies, and the local authorities of the Uluwatu Temple.

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This video clip illustrates the synchronized expression of the robbing and bartering behaviours displayed by four adult males in a group of long-tailed macaques at Uluwatu Temple (Bali, Indonesia). The sequence includes five robbing events (two successful and three failed events) and three bartering events (two successful and one failed events) occurring within a short time window (3 min 20 sec) (MP4 63381 kb)

This video clip illustrates the response facilitation process in RB-related behaviours displayed by long-tailed macaques in the witness condition (i.e., Witness Focal or WF). Here, the process occurred in three steps. First, an adult male (i.e., the witness or focal subject) approached and gazed at a juvenile male (i.e., the demonstrator) engaged ina robbing attempt of a child’s shoe (i.e., the token). After the demonstrator’s robbing attempt failed, the witness sat, briefly self-groomed and looked around. Second, the witness engaged in robbing behaviour by approaching an adult female visitor from behind, jumping on her shoulder, taking her eyeglasses and stepping aside, while resting and handling the eyeglasses. Third, this adult male macaque engaged in a bartering sequence with two successive temple staff who offered the monkey several food items (i.e., bags of fruit, a raw egg and a cracker – all declined by the monkey) before he accepted a bag of bananas, dropped the eyeglasses in exchange, and consumed this food reward (i.e., successful bartering) (MP4 67866 kb)

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Brotcorne, F., Holzner, A., Jorge-Sales, L. et al. Social influence on the expression of robbing and bartering behaviours in Balinese long-tailed macaques. Anim Cogn 23, 311–326 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-019-01335-5

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Keywords

  • Social learning
  • Response facilitation
  • Behavioural contagion
  • Model-based biases
  • Material culture
  • Token exchange