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Emergence, propagation or disappearance of novel behavioral patterns in the habituated chimpanzees of Mahale: a review

Abstract

Each local population of chimpanzees shows cultural variation, but little is known about how behavioral variations first emerge, and how often variants spread to other individuals and then become fixed as a local culture in chimpanzee society. Although field studies of chimpanzees are still too short to answer these questions definitively, it may stimulate further study in various sites to summarize the developments observed over the past 40 years at Mahale, Tanzania. Innovative patterns were operationally defined as new behavioral patterns performed by M group chimpanzees from 1981 onwards. Innovations included patterns of feeding (n = 8), human-directed behavior (n = 3), hygiene behavior (n = 4), maternal carrying of infants (n = 2), courtship (n = 2), play (n = 6), intimidation displays (n = 3), and quasi-grooming (n = 4). Although most patterns were repeated later by other individuals, six patterns were never seen performed by another individual, and eight patterns were performed by one or a few individuals but social transmission was unlikely. Thus, innovation was not rare, but emergence of fashion or establishment of traditions seems to occur rarely in chimpanzee society.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, and Tanzania National Parks for permission to work at the Mahale Mountains National Park, and Mahale Mountains Wildlife Research Centre and Mahale Mountains National Park for logistic support. We are indebted to all colleagues and Tanzanian assistants who have worked at Mahale for permission to use the shared data. We thank ANC production for permission to use pictures from their video footage. We thank two anonymous reviewers and Prof. Yukio Takahata for useful comments. The field work was financed by the JSPS Fund for Scientific Research (#12375003, 16255007, 19255008), Global Environment Research Fund of the Ministry of Environment (F-061) and the Leakey Foundation.

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Correspondence to Toshisada Nishida.

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Nishida, T., Matsusaka, T. & McGrew, W.C. Emergence, propagation or disappearance of novel behavioral patterns in the habituated chimpanzees of Mahale: a review. Primates 50, 23–36 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-008-0109-y

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Keywords

  • Chimpanzee
  • Idiosyncrasy
  • Innovation
  • Learning
  • Mahale